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Bienvenue a Paris! The city of love and romance, that engenders daydreams of long walks down the Champs-Elysées with a baguette under one arm, coffee in hand, and maybe a croissant in the other.
If you don’t agree that it’s the city for lovers, it’s definitely for the lovers of food, am I right? Paris has a rich history filled with sugar and butter. Oh, and military glory, fascinating architecture, artists, food, and fashion too. Let’s dive in!
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Bones, yes human bones, were discovered in Paris that date all the way back to 8000 BC. That’s during the Mesolithic period, which just happens to be right between the Old Stone Age with their dull stone tools and the New Stone Age with their polished stone tools.
During the Middle Ages, also known as the medieval period, Paris was the largest and most populated city in all of Europe. If you want to pull up your handy-dandy mental timeline, it lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. And as we all know any big city means shopping! Even back then, Paris was an important commercial center full of artisans and merchants.
Paris is proud to have founded the second university in all of Europe, University of Paris in 1150. They were preceded by the University of Bologna, but they were happy that their name wouldn’t later share a name with a processed meat! #Spam
During the 16th century, Paris became the book-publishing capital of Europe. However, it wasn’t until the Renaissance began that France really took the world of printing and publishing by storm. It’s worth mentioning the Estienne (Stephanus) family who continued to publish for a solid five generations without even a tiny hiccup of a break. And who else would found the first copyright library, than this family of serious printers? Sometimes life just makes sense.
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The Catacombs of Paris contain the remains of over six million dead people. Building began on the catacombs in 1774 after a basement wall in a cemetery collapses, and good ol’ King Louis XVI realized that there just wasn’t enough cemeteries for all his dead subjects. Starting in 1786, there was a nightly procession of wagons, taking skeletons from cemetery to a mine shaft, leading deep down into the catacombs.
Paris definitely has some skeletons in its closet, or should we say in the basement? The catacombs were pretty much forgotten about for a while… like a few hundred years. No big deal! The citizens of Paris only remembered it when they realized it would be a good place for parties and concerts. When was that, you ask? The 19th century.
Ever since January 1, 2013, the Catacombs of Paris was officially declared a museum. To this day, you know where the entrance of the catacombs is due to the long queue of people outside. Only 200 people are allowed in at a time into this labyrinth filled of bones. So, fancy a stroll about 30 meters underground with six million skeletons? Sounds like a perfect first date.
The Sun King aka Louis XIV may have been just the teeniest bit vain, and perhaps wanted to look a little good. Or really good. Members of his court also wanted a slice of the fashion pie, and thus the industry of fashion began! It was the high-demand of garments for the king, his court, and the rich inside and outside of Paris that launched the giant network of fashion merchandisers, designers, and merchants.
When King Louis XIV began balding, he started over-compensating with ostentatious wigs. Those hilariously large curled wigs with cascading curls falling down the back became his trademark, and the rest of his court crossed that bridge to crazy-wig-town too. Everyone wanted to model themselves after their fashion star, Beyoncé! Oh wait, King Louis XIV right.
Vogue was founded in 1892 and Jacques Doucet and Madeline Vionnet founded fashion houses. They threw corsets out the windows along with those cumbersome petticoats and thought, hey we have better ideas! Then Coco Chanel stepped into the fashion spotlight in 1925, by popularizing the casual chic look as the feminine standard of style. Thanks, Coco.
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There are currently 130 museums in Paris including the Museum of Magic (Musée de la Magie), the Smoking Museum (Musée du Fumeur), and the Museum of Police and Law Enforcement (Musée de la Préfecture de Police). And yeah, there’s the Louvre.
Paris is also home to the Museum of Perfume (Musée du Parfum), that was founded in 1983 by Fragonard Parfumeur. Is his name a coincidence or not? Anyways, the museum contains exhibits of perfume bottles, containers, and toiletry sets. Whether there is a smelling tour or not is also under debate.
The Louvre is the biggest museum in the world. It has 380,000 art pieces and over 15,000 visitors per day. It wasn’t originally a museum, it was a fortress built in 1190. Then later, it was a royal palace. Only when the royals upgraded to the Palace Versailles, did the Louvre become a museum. Oh, and it’s the haunted by a mummy called Belphegor. Happy haunting, Belphegor!
Originally a railway station, then a parking lot, then a shooting stand, then a theatre, finally in 1977 the Museum of d’Orsay became an art museum. The government decided to convert the building into a museum because they wanted to fill the gap between the Louvre and the Pompidou — a little bridge between the ancients and the modern.
Disneyland Paris is the second Disney park to open outside of the USA, as Tokyo beat them to the draw in 1983. When the park in Tokyo became an instant sensational success, Europe wanted a slice of the pie and came up with 1,200 possible locations, predominantly in Britain, France, Italy, and Space. Paris won!
Disneyland Paris is the only Disney park to have a pet dragon underneath its castle in the dungeons. Maybe less of a pet and of a prisoner! This dragon occasionally huffs, puffs, and roars. When it was built in 1992, it was the largest animatronic figure in existence measuring over 75 feet long and 5,500 pounds.
The Space Mountain ride in Paris is the fastest of the five in operation at all the Disneyland parks! How fast, you ask? 46mph in 2 seconds! It is similar technology to the technology used in aircraft carriers to propel jet fighter planes. Whoa, captain!
So maybe there are no lions, tigers, or bears…. but there are some very real animals present at Disneyland Paris. Disneyland Paris has it’s very own Wildlife Department which is in charge of looking after all the wildlife at the parks such as rabbits, birds, and toads.
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It was 1889 and Paris was enjoying the good life, with carefree vibes, and disappearing social barriers. Two businessmen decided it was high-time to step up the entertainment game in Paris. Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler renovated a decrepit dancehall and Moulin Rouge was born!
Maybe Shakespeare didn’t specifically say windmill, but close enough right? Moulin Rouge is topped with a large red windmill that has become the symbol and icon of the cabaret hall. In fact, Moulin Rouge is French for Red Windmill. Who knew?!
It’s hardly worth mentioning Moulin Rouge without remarking on the Can-Can. This dance was synonymous with this cabaret. In the very beginning of Moulin Rouge’s dance hall days, the two most famous and provocative dancers at Moulin Rouge had stage names of The Glutton and The Boneless!
Moulin Rouge was actually the first electric building in all of Paris! Adolphe Léon Willette designed the building and had a bright idea of a bright colored electric exterior. So when the shows started at 10pm, the whole building would burst into color!
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Over 800 years old, Notre Dame is an old gal. She’s lovingly referred to “Our Lady.” It actually was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, and one ancient Gallo-Roman temple that was dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter. The actual foundation stone of Notre Dame was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163. Way to go, Pope Alexander III!
Notre Dame was once in a state of damage and disrepair and was almost demolished. It was Napoleon who saved this monumental church. Napoleon crowned himself emperor of the French in the Notre Dame Cathedral in 1804. He basically wanted to seem legit.
During the chaos of World War II, a rumor was running rampant in France that German soldiers might be inclined to break a window or two of the beautifully newly installed stained glass. But, they’re new! So the church decided to remove the stained glass windows to keep them safe.
Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who had visions from God, who led France in battles against the English during the Hundred Years’ War. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. Yet her story didn’t end there. She was beautified in Notre Dame in 1909 and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint in 1920. Go, Joan!
La Compagnie du Chemin de fer Métropolitain de Paris was just too long of a name for a rapid transit system. So the French decided to abbreviate the name and simply called it the Métro. This name spread all over the world as a common name to designate all rapid transit systems. Did the name spread rapidly? Results: Inconclusive.
It was 1845 and railway companies were already imagining ways to link inner districts of the city in a radical new way: underground. It took over 50 years of arguing to come to this consensus and finally start construction. 50 years of city government squabbling finally came to a halt! Thus, the Paris underground metro system was born.
The Metro was initially built to serve the city inside its walls, thus stations are relatively close averaging just 548 meters apart. For those lazy pedestrians out there, they don’t have to trek far to reach a station! The Paris Metro is one of the most densely networked stations in the world.
Napoleon III was nearly assassinated entrance to the opera in 1858. This escape from near death served as inspiration for Napoleon to build a new opera house! A new opera house with a more safe, secure, and guarded entrance, of course.
Napoleon selected a nice plot of 12,000 square meters and declared the commencement of a worldwide design competition! 171 architects in total applied, and a young, relatively unknown man, of 32 was chosen as the architect. Charles Garnier made a big promise, to accommodate huge audiences.
Turns out Napoleon III chose difficult land to build the opera house on. It was swampy and it turns out there was actually an underground lake beneath the land. It took almost a year to pour the foundation, and everything kept flooding. But the show must go on! The Paris Opera House officially opened in 1875.
The City of Paris has a population of over 2.2 million people. It is the most populated area in all of the European Union! The historic and beautiful city of love is also a city filled with people!
#34 – Highs and Lows
The population of Paris boomed in 1921 to an all-time high of 2.9 million. Then it declined. It reached a big low in 1999 of 2.1 million. That was the turning page because it began to climb again! Population declines in the city were largely due to citizens sprawling out into the suburbs. Oh, the ‘burbs!
Paris is one of the most multicultural iris in Europe. Around 20% of the residents were born outside of France, the majority are from Asia and Africa. Interestingly enough, 37% of all the immigrants in France live in Paris!
The Eiffel Tower was built on the Champ de Mars in Paris. It is named after Gustave Eiffel, whose company was behind building the tower. However, it was his team who designed it, not Mr. Eiffel! Being the smart businessman that he was, he bought the right to patent and claimed his fame to his name!
It takes 50 tonnes of paint to cover the Eiffel Tower, head to toe! Every seven years, paint is administered to the Eiffel Tower to protect the 320 meters structure from rust. Paint colors have ranged from red-brown to yellow to bronze. It’s painted the old school way, paintbrush and bucket style!
Heat has a huge effect on La Tour Eiffel. High temperatures change the height of the Eiffel Tower by up to 6 inches! We aren’t the only ones who wilt a little under the scorching rays of the sun!
Did you know that the Eiffel Tower was meant to be temporary? It was simply supposed to be a small and simple 320-meter high installation for the 1889 World Fair. However, it had a handy antenna on the top that was great for conducting wireless signals and radio waves. The Eiffel Tower, to this day, is still used to send radio and TV signals around the world!
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Paris has extraordinary examples of architecture from every period, all the way from the Middle Ages up to present times. Not only does Paris have it all, but it also can is proud to be the birthplace of the Gothic style. The city of love is also the city of many famous landmarks and architects!
Before Napoleon, a French architect by the name of Charles Ribart proposed building a three-story elephant-shaped building on the spot that was later chosen for the Arc de Triomphe. The government denied Ribart’s request to build a giant elephant building. The Arc de Triomphe could have been an Elephant de Triomphe!
Good ol’ Paul Abadie is the architect behind the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. He was inspired by the Saint Sofia in Constantinople and the San Marco in Venice with their romano-byzantine style. And the church is one of the heaviest bells in the world! The “Savoyarde” bell weighs around 19 tonnes!
Paris is home to ancient Gallo-Roman architecture dating back to the early ages. While not much architecture remains, because 2000 years is a long time to stay standing, Paris does have the remains of Roman baths and a pillar under Notre Dame. This fragment of a column has been dubbed the Pillar of the Boatmen!
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European adventurer and philosopher, the Count of Saint Germain was a man of mystery. No one exactly knows exactly where he came from or when he was born. We’re not talking about saying you are 21 when you’re really 20. Historians truly have no idea when he was born. They say, maybe between 1691 to 1712.
We all have nicknames or little name abbreviations, right? James can be Jim and Christopher can be Chris. But how does one man, go by: Marquis de Montferrat, Comte Bellamarre, Chevalier Schoening, Count Weldon, Comte Soltikoff, Graf Tzarogy, and Prinz Ragoczy? St. Germain sure had a lot of aliases!
Apparently St. Germain liked to claim he was 500 years old. Voltaire liked to jab at him by calling him “The Wonderman.” Yet, he was a little bit of a superhero for his contemporaries who sought his opinion on important matters, such as alchemy and anti-aging concoctions!
St. Germain showed up in French court around 1748 and he quickly achieved prominence amongst the nobles and high society. King Louis XV hired him for diplomatic missions. It’s always best to have an immortal magician alchemist philosopher on your team!
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The Siege of Paris is also known as the Sack of Paris, occurred in 845 when the Vikings overtook France. The Viking invaders were led to victory by Reginherus, aka Ragnar. With a name like that, he certainly sounds like an intimidating adversary!
Ragnar led 120 Viking ships up the Seine river in March 845. He had five thousand men with him. The Frankish King with the nearly as aggressive name of, Charles the Bald, got a small army together to fight back. Ragnar vs. Charles the Bald. Ragnar Won. Obviously.
The actual day the Vikings arrived in Paris was Easter Sunday. After plundering the city and committing a multitude of nefarious acts, karma kicked in a plague broke out amidst the Norsemen. Therefore, they prayed to their gods and decided the best way to stave off the plague was to fast. Miraculously, the plague subsided.
Clearly, Charles The Bald just wasn’t an even match for the Viking Ragnar. Ransom was the only way the Vikings would leave, so Charles the Bald paid them 7,000 livres of silver in gold. That totals in 5,670 pounds of silver and gold. That’s the weight of, you know, a rhinoceros.
There’s more to Paris than meets the eye, or can be seen on city streets! Well, let’s be honest, the streets of Paris are truly spectacular from the lights of Moulin Rouge to the bells of Notre Dame. But it’s the history of Paris that is the most colorful of all. We hope you enjoyed these 51 fun facts about the history of the city of love, and yeah, croissants.
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Lily Allen-Duenas is a wandering yoga instructor, massage therapist, and reiki healer. For the last two years she’s been journeying around the world, teaching yoga on island resorts in Cambodia, surf hostels in Sri Lanka, and wellness centers in the Phillipines. Lily loves building her life around her passions, health, wellness, and travel. You can follow her journey at wildyogatribe.com or get social with her @wildyogatribe