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Cabaret de L'Enfer (1910) by Eugène Atget
Cabaret de L'Enfer (1910) by Eugène Atget

"Let us go to Montmartre, where Heine sleeps and the Goncourts, Henry Beyle better known as Stendhal, Ernest Renan, Theophile Gautier, prince of marmoreal prose, Carlotta Patti, and Dumas fils. The grave of Ada Isaacs Menken, poet, actress, bareback rider, the greatest of Mazeppas, is there." --Steeplejack (1921) by James Huneker

"The frightful scenes of devastation enacted during the Revolution, especially in 1793, were at least beneficial in sweeping away the overgrown conventual establishments, which occupied the best sites and one-third of the area of the city. Under the Directory the museum of the Louvre was begun. Vast improvements were effected under Napoleon ; the mean buildings which formerly occupied the Place du Carrousel were demolished, the N. gallery between the Louvre and the Tuileries and the handsome Rue de Rivoli were begun; new streets, spacious markets, three bridges, several quays, canals, etc. constructed; numerous fountains and monuments erected; churches restored and embellished ; the Bourse and other public edifices founded."-- Paris and Its Environs (first ed. 1874) by Baedeker

Stryge (1853) is a print by French etcher Charles Méryon depicting one of the chimera of the Galerie des chimères of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.
Stryge (1853) is a print by French etcher Charles Méryon depicting one of the chimera of the Galerie des chimères of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.
A Paris street - set design for Act II of Puccini's La bohème by Adolfo Hohenstein
A Paris street - set design for Act II of Puccini's La bohème by Adolfo Hohenstein
Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

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Paris is the capital of France. It is a leading global cultural center and is renowned for its defining neo-classical architecture as well as its unrivaled influence in fashion and the arts. Nicknamed "the City of Light" or "Gay Paree" since the 19th century, Paris has a reputation as a "romantic city".


Nineteenth century Paris

Nineteenth century Paris

Walter Benjamin called Paris "the capital of the 19th century". Indeed, Paris was the birthplace of modern art and from the 1860s ruled as cultural capital of the world until well into the 20th century.

The Industrial Revolution, the French Second Empire, and the Belle Époque brought 19th century Paris the greatest development in its history. From the 1840s, rail transport allowed an unprecedented flow of migrants into Paris attracted by employment in the new industries in the suburbs. The city underwent a massive renovation under Napoleon III and his assistant Haussmann, who leveled entire districts of narrow-winding medieval streets to create the network of wide avenues and neo-classical façades of modern Paris.

Cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849 affected the population of Paris — the 1832 epidemic alone claimed 20,000 of the then population of 650,000. Paris also suffered greatly from the siege ending the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and the ensuing civil war Commune of Paris (1871) killed thousands and sent many of Paris's administrative centres (and city archives) up in flames.

Paris recovered rapidly from these events to host the famous Universal Expositions of the late nineteenth century. The Eiffel Tower was built for the French Revolution centennial 1889 Universal Exposition, as a "temporary" display of architectural engineering prowess but remained the world's tallest building until 1930, and is the city's best-known landmark. The first line of the Paris Métro opened for the 1900 Universal Exposition and was an attraction in itself for visitors from the world over. Paris's World's Fair years also consolidated its position in the tourist industry and as an attractive setting for international technology and trade shows.

Artistic Montparnasse

Artistic Montparnasse

Like its counterpart Montmartre, Montparnasse became famous at the beginning of the 20th century, referred to as the Années Folles (the Crazy Years), when it was the heart of intellectual and artistic life in Paris. Between 1921 and 1924, the number of Americans in Paris swelled from 6,000 to 30,000. From 1910 to the start of World War II, Paris' artistic circles migrated to Montparnasse, an alternative to the Montmartre district which had been the intellectual breeding ground for the previous generation of artists. The Paris of Zola, Manet, France, Degas, Fauré, a group that had assembled more on the basis of status affinity than actual artistic tastes, indulging in the refinements of Dandyism, was at the opposite end of the economic, social, and political spectrum from the gritty, tough-talking, die-hard, emigrant artists that peopled Montmartre.

Haussmannization of Paris


The Haussmann Renovations, or Haussmannization, of Paris was a work commissioned by Napoléon III and led by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, spanning from 1852 to 1870.

The project encompassed all aspects of urban planning, both in the center of Paris and in the surrounding districts: streets and boulevards, regulations imposed on facades of buildings, public parks, sewers and water works, city facilities and public monuments.

The project was strongly criticized by some of its contemporaries, forgotten for a good part of the twentieth century, and then redeemed when post-war urban planning became discredited; however, it still has an influence on the everyday lives of Parisians. It established the foundation of what is today the popular representation of the French capital around the world, by changing the old Paris of dense and irregular medieval alleyways into a modern city with wide avenues and open spaces.

It also must be noted that the unsanitary quarters "cleaned" by Haussmann contained very few of the bourgeois class. Indeed, the parting of uprooting of established working class residential areas may have been another security measure, as a disrupted and scattered community will find it harder to unite and so will pose less of a threat. To modern ears this may sound odd, but the working classes were still known as "the dangerous classes" to Parisians, and the French in general, and the memories of the 1789 and 1848 revolutions where workers revolted against the state had left deep impressions on the Parisian psyche.

So was established a sort of "zonage" that still dominates the distribution of housing and activities in Paris and its nearest suburbs: from the centre to the west, offices and bourgeois quarters; from the east and outer rim, poorer housing and industry.

It should also be noted that when reports of the outbreak of the Paris Commune insurrection reached Haussmann he expressed his frustration at not having been able to carry out his reforms quickly enough to make such an insurrection futile.


Since 1848, Paris is a popular destination by rail network, with Paris at its centre. Among Paris' first mass attractions drawing international interest were the above-mentioned Expositions Universelles that were the origin of Paris' many monuments, namely the Eiffel Tower from 1889. These, in addition to the capital's Second Empire embellishments, did much to make the city itself the attraction it is today.

Paris' museums and monuments are among its highest-esteemed attractions; tourism has motivated both the city and national governments to create new ones. The city's most prized museum, the Louvre, welcomes over 8 million visitors a year, being by far the world's most-visited art museum. The city's cathedrals are another main attraction: Notre Dame de Paris and the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur receive 12 million and eight million visitors, respectively. The Eiffel Tower, by far Paris' most famous monument, averages over six million visitors per year and more than 200 million since its construction. Disneyland Paris is a major tourist attraction for visitors to not only Paris but also the rest of Europe, with 14.5 million visitors in 2007.

The Louvre is one of the largest and most famous museums, housing many works of art, including the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) and the Venus de Milo statue. Works by Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin are found in Musée Picasso and Musée Rodin, respectively, while the artistic community of Montparnasse is chronicled at the Musée du Montparnasse. Starkly apparent with its service-pipe exterior, the Centre Georges Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg, houses the Musée National d'Art Moderne. Art and artifacts from the Middle Ages and Impressionist eras are kept in Musée Cluny and Musée d'Orsay, respectively, the former with the prized tapestry cycle The Lady and the Unicorn. Paris' newest (and third-largest) museum, the Musée du quai Branly, opened its doors in June 2006 and houses art from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

Many of Paris' once-popular local establishments have come to cater to the tastes and expectations of tourists, rather than local patrons. Le Lido, the Moulin Rouge cabaret-dancehall, for example, is a staged dinner theatre spectacle, a dance display that was once but one aspect of the cabaret's former atmosphere. All of the establishment's former social or cultural elements, such as its ballrooms and gardens, are gone today. Much of Paris' hotel, restaurant and night entertainment trades have become heavily dependent on tourism.

Further reading

See also

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