October 5, 2015

A Geek's Guide to Paris - Part 1: Paris through the ages

People have lived in what is now Paris for at least 10,000 years but the region had to wait for its name until a Celtic tribe that called itself the Parisii built a settlement there in 250 BC. When the Romans conquered the area in 52 BC and started expanding the town they called it Lutetia Parisorum. Around 305 AD the city began to be called Civitas Parisiorum, ("The City of the Parisii") but by the end of the Roman Empire, it was known simply as Parisius in Latin and Paris in French. What started as a small settlement on the banks of the Seine is now a metropolis with more than 12 million inhabitants, one of Europe's largest population centers. With a GDP of €607 billion (US$845 billion) it's a true economic juggernaut, a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to its rich history, world renowned cuisine and fashion houses, as well as its leading role in the development of film, it has managed to retain its place as one of the cultural heavy weights of the world.

Its political history is long and complex. It has been the seat of power in France from the 4th century onwards but the power it held over surrounding lands has waxed and waned considerably throughout time. Many of the most famous kings that held their court in Paris have wielded enormous religious and economic power and managed to project military might around the world. From the rule of kings such as Clovis I of the distinguished Merovingian dynasty or the "father of Europe", Charlemagne of the Carolingian dynasty who went on to become Holy Roman Emperor... From royals like Hugh Capet of the Capetian line who in many ways founded modern France to Louis XIV, the Sun king, who helped put an end to feudalism and emperors like Napoléon Bonaparte who birthed much of the modern world... All of them have shaped history in ways seemingly beyond what a mere mortal should be capable of.

In cities as old as Paris, every square inch has been stage to the joys of life as well as the terrors that precede death. When people weren't being taken by natural disasters that were at the time outside of human control; Paris for example got ravaged by the Black Death in 1348 and by the plague in 1466, they had no problem slaughtering each other for religious differences such as was the case during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre or the many larger wars between Catholics and Protestants in general. Perhaps one of the biggest wars France ever fought was the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) in which the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, fought the House of Valois for control of the Kingdom of France. Both sides drew in allies from all over Europe and the result was pretty much hell on earth.

It would have been nice if things had quietened down after the age of enlightenment but we all know it didn't turn out that way. Paris' reputation grew on the writings of its intellectuals such as the philosophers Descartes, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. These bold thinkers fueled not only the enlightened thinking that spawned the modern world, they also lit the fuse under the establishment, sparking the French Revolution (1789) which saw France get rid of its kings and declare itself a Republic. What started as something beautiful turned dark real quick with a period known as "the reign of terror" (1793). Standing on the beautiful Place de la Concorde it's hard to believe that it was once the site of France's most active guillotine. You can now only guess where exactly the heads of people like Lavoisier or Marie Antoinette were severed from their bodies but the thought alone is enough to send chills up your spine.

France stopped being a republic when this little guy called Napoleon decided he wanted to be Emperor and not just of France but of most of modern Europe. He turned out to be a tactical genius with considerably organisational skills which allowed him to realize his rather crazy dream. He steamrolled pretty much all forces that opposed him and is widely regarded as one of the greatest commanders in history. To this day his campaigns are studied at military academies worldwide. His Napoleonic Code influenced civil law worldwide and he pushed for the adoption of international measurement standards by demanding that the metric system be taught at all levels of education. After Napoleon's loss at the hands of the Russians and their scorched earth tactics and ultimately his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Paris was briefly occupied by the allied forces who had brought him to his knees. Although the restoration period saw the return of the monarchs with Louis XVIII and Charles X, it didn't take long for another revolution to uproot them. Considering that France is currently on its fifth republic, this cycle played out quite a few times.

The Second Empire (Napoleon III) ended in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) but not long after peace had returned, Paris became home to a small scale but extremely brutal civil war in which anarchists and radical socialists murdered their way to power but ultimately lost to the french army in "the bloody week". The start of the 20th century brought with it the first world war and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now that we've dealt with the past, we'll get the obvious attractions out of the way. if you visit Paris you have to get up close and personal with; the Eiffel tower, Sacré-Cœur, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Panthéon, La Grande Arche de La Defense, Centre Pompidou, Gare du Nord, Conciergerie, the Louvre, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Musée des Arts et Métiers, La Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Musée d'Orsay, Hôtel de Ville, Sorbonne, Palais Garnier, Palais de Chaillot, Le Grand & Petit Palais, Pont Alexandre, Pont Neuf, Pont Mirabeau, Notre-Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Saint-Sulpice, L'église de la Madeleine, Sainte-Clotilde, Sainte-Trinité, Saint-Augustin, Les Arènes de Lutèce,Tour Montparnasse, Hôtel de Sens, Place de la Concorde, Place Vendôme, Place de la Bastille, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg & Les Catacombes de Paris. If you find the time you should probably also visit Versailles, Château Vincennes, Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace & La basilique de Saint-Denis just outside of the Paris Center. Pictures and links to more information about all these places can be found in the album below.

All of the above you will find in pretty much every guide to Paris but for #ScienceSunday , my final 5 day quest post and my weekly art share I'd like to present you a picture of Paris focused on science and art. However, I am saving that for Part 2 which I hope to finish today so check back later! :)


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