In the 11th and 12th centuries, the city experienced a commercial and urban renaissance.

The importance of the supply route provided by the rivers gave power to the guild of shipping merchants over the rest of the city. Doubly so when in 1170, the king awarded them a monopoly on all river traffic between Mantes and Corbeil. The president of the guild moved into the Maison aux Piliers in the 14th century, in the spot that is now occupied by the Hôtel de Ville, and was essentially the mayor of the city. The king at that time resided in the fortress at Châtelet, and the two authorities frequently found themselves in a position of rivalry.

It was at this point that the city began to expand on both banks of the river, growing most significantly on the right bank. At the end of the 12th century, Philippe August created fountains, founded the market at Les Halles in 1137 (which is at the origin of the existing commercial function of that area) and had the main streets paved. The city became the seat of religious and political power (which it still is today with the Palais de Justice and the Hôtel-Dieu) On the left bank, the intellectual and university quarters stand side by side. It is since this period that the île de la Cité has been adorned by the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (undertaken in 1163 by the bishop Maurice de Sully), by the Sainte-Chapelle (undertaken by Saint Louis in 1246), and the enlarged royal palace of Cité (under Philippe le Bel 1285-1314).

For the protection of the city, it was necessary to build a strong rampart (1180-1213), reinforced by the fortress of the Louvre. For over seven centuries (until 1919) Paris remained a fortified city, which was the forming factor in the circular structure of the city (concentric boulevards replaced the successive city walls), as well as the density of land use and the lack of open spaces and gardens.

From 1250, 700 “scholars” were housed in roughly 60 colleges, where they received rooms in return for giving lessons. The most famous was founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon and was reconstructed in the 19th century. The University of Paris was then one of the great intellectual centres of medieval Christendom. With 80,000 inhabitants, Paris became in the 13th century the biggest city in Christian Europe. The 14th century, however, brought darker times: the population was reduced by famine between 1315 and 1317 and by plague in 1348-49. The hundred years war between France and England made Paris the scene of unrest, Paris was occupied by the English in 1420 and its citizens received the invaders rather favourably. Joan of Arc laid siege to the city in 1429, but was unsuccessful. Only in 1436 was the city retaken and was then viewed with suspicion. Paris would not resume its role as capital until a century later, under François I. Peace and prosperity returned in the second half of the 15th century, in a kingdom once again unified. The Hôtel de Sens and the Hôtel de Cluny were the last gothic art constructions.

To find out more about the city of Paris and its history, click on one the links below.


For an interactive approach to learning the history of Paris, we recommend Parsitoric:

Paristoric, 11 rue Scribe
(metro Opéra) (tel. 01 42 66 62 06, shows on the hour 09.00-21.00 from April to October, 9.00-18.00 the rest of the year, but until 21.00 Fridays and Saturdays)More information

Paristoric presents the history of the city in a 45 minute show on a big screen. Images, photos and etchings give viewers an understanding of how the city came together over 2000 years. Directed by people whose passion is the city, the film is quite moving – at the same time poetic and educational. Translation into ten languages is available through headphones.