The 16th century witnessed a new momentum thanks to François I when he came to reside in the capital in 1530. He had the old Louvre destroyed to make way for a new Renaissance palace, he also began the construction of the Saint-Eustache church and the Hôtel de Ville. Open to Renaissance ideas, the city acquired some considerable intellectual and cultural influence, thanks to the rise of the printing press and the works of numerous poets and humanists, the most eminent of whom taught at the newly created Collège de France.

An ardently catholic city, Paris was fundamentally opposed to the Reformation, and religious passions divided the city from 1534 between Protestants and Catholics. The Huguenots were massacred at Saint-Barthélemy in 1572 and the people of Paris joined the Catholic League. They rose up and deposed King Henri III upon the assassination of their leader, the Duke of Guise, and Henri IV was only able to enter Paris after renouncing his protestant faith.

The Bourbons encouraged the beautification of the city. During his reign in the beginning of the 17th century, Henri IV set about completing the works begun by Catherine de Medici on the Louvre and the Chateau des Tuileries. This sparked the expansion of the handsome western districts of the city. The king also saw to the completion of the Hôtel de Ville and Pont-Neuf, and created a new type of geometric and homogenous city square with the Place Royale (now called the place des Vosges) and the place Dauphine. The cultural influence of th city was reinforced under Louis XIII with the creation of the Royal Printing House in 1620, the Jardin des Plantes and the Académie française.

Louis XIII also had new fortifications erected on the right bank (now occupied by Grands Boulevards) to give the city room to expand. What had been countryside became new quarters of Paris: faubourg Saint-Honoré, l'île Saint-Louis, le Marais, Faubourg Saint-Germain. Richelieu had the Palais-Cardinal (Today the Palais-Royale) constructed and Marie de Medici moved into the Palais du Luxembourg.

Under the reign of Louis XIV, Paris was affected by the troubles of the revolt. In fact, the people of Paris quickly withdrew from the affair, seeing it as a war of powerful aristocrats. However the Sun-King would never forget that he had been forced to flee the city while he was still a child. He shunned Paris and moved the throne to Saint-Germain, then to Versailles in 1680. With 500,000 inhabitants, Paris remained the centre of intellectual life nonetheless, and works to beautify and improve the city were continued.

Lofty projects of construction were resumed under the authority of Colbert, who brought the great architects of the time, such as François Mansart and Claude Perrault. This period, towards the end of the 17th century, saw the advent of the classical style in opposition to Italian baroque, with the creation of numerous grand structures: the colonnade of the Louvre, the Invalides, the observatory, the Salpêtrière hospital, the Collège des Quatre-Nations (today the Institut), Porte Saint-Denis and Porte Saint-Martin, the royal squares of Louis-le-Grand (Vendôme) and Les Victoires, the Jardins des Tuileries, the Gobelins. This architectural opulence contrasted sharply with the image of an overpopulated and miserable city.

Versailles remained the seat of government until the end of the Ancien Régime.


In the 18th century, Paris became home to the philosophic ideas of the Enlightenment. In sitting rooms and cafés (which were only a recent invention) across the city, people were passionately discussing the principles of equality, liberty and national sovereignty. New buildings appeared, like the Ecole militaire, the Odéon, the future Panthéon and Saint-Sulpice. The Louis XVI Bridge (now Pont de la Concorde) was erected and led to Place Louis XV (Place de la Concorde), the first royal square open to the public.

In 1785, the farmer generals who were in charge of collecting the octroi (a tax paid by merchants entering Paris), commissioned Ledoux to build the rotundas of the new city walls (place Stalingrad and Place de la Nation). Lacking a defensive ability, this wall which “made Paris murmur” was to establish the city limits up until 1860. The gardens of the royal palace became a place for discussion and agitation, notably on 12 July 1789.

In one stroke, the Revolution gave back Paris its place at the head of France. The capital was the scene of most of the revolutionary events and the victory of the Jacobins over the Girondins accentuated the process of centralisation. Anecdotal but revealing is the fact that the French tricolour is made up of the colours of the city of Paris, red and blue, interlaced with the white of the monarchy.

“As Paris claimed to substitute the rest of the country, and represent alone the entire nation, Parisians would no longer be able to enjoy the same autonomy as the inhabitants of other cities and towns. They had married themselves to central power, for better or for worse”, Napoleon outlined the consequences of this situation when he drew up a special statute for the city depriving it of either a mayor or a municipal council, it would be placed instead into the guardianship of a prefect of the Seine region and a prefect of the police acting directly on government orders (Michel Mourre). The process of centralisation continued into the 19th century and was accelerated by industrialisation, the rural exodus and the creation of road and rail links.

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.