History (2)

Anyone who has read the Asterix comics will be well aware that the first inhabitants of France were the Gauls. Specifically, the Parisii tribe, a name that means “boatmen”, were the Gallic people who founded the city between 250 and 200 BC. Although it is not known exactly where this first Gallic city was, there are indications that they settled on what are called the islands of Cité and Saint Louis, where today we can see the cathedral of Notre Dame, for example.

Later, after centuries of battles between Gauls and Romans, in 52 BC Julius Caesar conquered the city and renamed it Lutetia, which means “dwelling of midstream waters”. The Romans built walls, a large palace in the current Palais de Justice, a circus and thermal baths. From the 3rd century onwards, in periods of Roman decadence, the barbarians began to occupy their territories. When in the 5th century Attila, the Scourge of God, and the Huns arrived here from the north, the inhabitants of Lutetia withdrew in time and prayed for protection from God, heartened by Saint Genevieve and her prayers. And yes, in fact Attila just carried on and Saint Genevieve, with time, came to be declared the patron Saint of the city of Paris.

Finally, the Romans lost the city to the Germanic peoples and King Clovis took over. After his marriage to a fervent catholic, he converted the city to Catholicism and in 508 established Paris as the capital of his people, the Franks. A result of this period features monuments such as the abbey of Saint German des Prés or that of Saint Denis.

In 768 Peppin the Short rose to the throne, and after his death the kingdom was divided between his two sons Carloman and Charlemagne, and it was the latter who would finally be proclaimed as the sole heir. After the Norman attacks of the 9th century the city was left in a deteriorated state, particularly the left bank, which was razed to the ground. 

The following century, now in the Middle Ages and with the Carolingians fighting amongst themselves, the Counts of Paris placed one of their own on the throne: Hugh Capet, who made Paris the royal see in 987 and started the Capetian Dynasty, which managed to reign for 800 years.

During this long period, Paris increased its political and economic power and began to recover its splendour. The city continued its placement on the right bank while the left bank was used mainly for agriculture and vineyards. This was a period of frenetic construction: the city walls were extended, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and the Louvre were built in the 13th century, the latter starting out life as a fortress. The left bank of the Latin District began to be a place for scholars and for culture, something that was consecrated in 1215 with the creation of the New University where figures such as Saint Thomas of Aquino gave classes; more than 30 faculties were opened and you will surely have heard of one of them: the Sorbonne.

After three centuries of hostilities between the French and the English, Capetians and Anglo-Normans, the Hundred Year War began, which lasted from 1337 to 1453. This war, along with the plague, substantially reduced the population of Paris. The English were eventually victorious and imposed their regent.

Now came one of the great moments in the history of Paris that you must have seen in the cinema or read in novels: the story of Joan of Arc. She was a young peasant who in 1429 convinced Charles VII that God had entrusted her to expel the English and make him king. Joan reorganised the French troops and was able to defeat the English. Charles VII was crowned but Joan fell into the hands of the enemy and was burnt at the stake, accused of witchcraft.

Between 1562 and 1598 the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics took place. Henry IV was the first French king of the Bourbon Dynasty, but the Parisians did not want a Protestant king and stopped him from entering the city. After five years of siege, Henry was only able to become king when he converted to Catholicism in 1594.

Henry IV was succeeded by his son Louis XIII in a mediocre reign that was dominated by another figure well-known by all: Cardinal Richelieu. He was his prime minister, tough and implacable and his obsession was to establish a monarchy with absolute power. In some ways, it was the fuse that would later take us to the most crucial event in the history of France, its revolution.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, was the first absolutist king in history and took over command in 1661 after the regency of his mother. He was the first to create the French state, introduce taxes for the middle classes and reduce the powers of the nobility. This forced him to go into exile from his own and move his court to the Palace of Versailles. Both he and his successor, Louis XV, set off on ruinous wars that ended with the loss of the colonies: Canada, America and India. After the Seven Years War, from 1756 to 1763, France lost a fortune and the feeling for democratic ideas that the American Revolution had sparked off became more and more extended amongst the people.

Louis XVI tried to neutralise the power of the more reformist deputies, but we have reached 1789 and the masses have taken over the streets. The revolution began on the 14th of July when the French took over the prison of the Bastille and released the prisoners. The revolution went through several stages; initially, the more moderate deputies, the Girondins, wanted a constitutional monarchy and proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Later these moderates lost power to more radical people such as Robespierre, Marat or Danton who directly abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the First Republic. The king was beheaded at the guillotine. 

But the Republic was chaotic and went through very hard periods of repression. In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte took over the country with a coup d’état. The new emperor even invaded Russia but the Allies returned the French Crown to the Bourbons. Napoleon was defeated in the mythical Battle of Waterloo in 1815. During the following years there were two more republics after the restoration of the monarchy or the Second Empire of the son of Napoleon.

It was during the III Republic that France entered the First World War against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thanks to which the country recovered the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. The war, however, had a very high cost: in the Battle of Verdun alone in 1916, 400,000 Frenchmen died.

1889 was a crucial year for Paris. The Universal Exhibition was held in the middle of the massive explosion of art nouveau. It was called the Belle Époque. The Eiffel Tower was built for this exhibition. This period was the Paris of the nightclubs and writers living in the lofts, etc. In short, everything you must have seen in the film “Moulin Rouge”.

The 1920s and 30s were the decades of avant-garde artistic movements. Paris was the centre of cubism and surrealism. Le Corbussier reinvented architecture and intellectuals from all over the world, such as Joyce or Hemingway, descended on Paris attracted by its famous bohemian atmosphere.

If the First World War did not affect Paris directly, apart from the deaths on the front of course, the Second World War represented one of the most shameful episodes in history for Parisians: having to watch how Hitler paraded down the Champs Elysees. Paris was occupied and General De Gaulle had to go into exile in London. The 25th of august was the date of the Normandy Landing and Paris was liberated. Luckily, Hitler’s troops ignored their final orders, since in light of the imminent defeat it had been ordered to burn down the city so that the liberators would only find ashes. Thanks to this its monuments are preserved today. 

De Gaulle established the IV Republic, which was followed by the fifth when he himself amended the Constitution to give himself more powers. 

The more recent history features another episode in which Paris played a leading role and which we all know of: May of 1968. It was initially a student movement against the Vietnam War that caused massive upheavals. “Make love, not war” and “All power to the imagination” were some of the slogans painted and shouted out by the students.

During these more than 2,000 years, Paris has been the birthplace of great changes, revolutions, cultural and artistic movements that have marked the history of the world and, of course, it still does. Naturally, we are still alert to what is going on in this city, one of the grand capitals of the world.

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