Most books on Paris start out by giving the reader a brief outline of how Paris was founded. But we have been doing things a little differently. Instead of beginning at the beginning, I have been giving you a brief history of the things you would be apt to see first, very much in the order in which you would encounter them on your first visit to Paris. But now that we are about to cross over onto the Cite, the original site of Paris, it will be necessary for me to give you at least a brief description of how Paris came about, and that is what I propose to do now.
If we had walked along the Seine a thousand years ago, at about the spot where the Louvre now stands, we would have found the shore of the river quite irregular and the width of it varying anywhere from a few hundred feet to several thousand. If we had continued upstream along the shore, we also would have found that the Ile de la Cite had several smaller sisters. In addition to the island on which Notre-Dame now stands, there were three other, but smaller islands. The smallest of these stood almost opposite to us, at the very end of the island, where the statue of Henry IV now stands on the Pont-Neuf. The other two were upstream and formed two halves of what is now the Ile St. Louis. The smallest of these was connected to the main island when the Pont-Neuf was built. It is now a little wedge-shaped park and is known as the Square du Vert-Galant, after the nickname the people had given Henry IV. The other two were made into one when the canal which separated them was filled in during the seventeenth century.
No one knows when people first settled on these islands. All we know is that when Caesar conquered Gaul, he found a settlement of fishermen and boatmen there. They were a peaceful people, belonging to the Celtic Race, who made their living by fishing and by the transport of goods on the river. No doubt these fishermen caught more fish than the patient fishermen you see fishing along the quais do today. Caesar called these people the Parisii, and the settlement itself Lutetia. This was in the year 53 B.C. As you will already have discovered during our journeys through Paris, the country on both sides of the river was anything but flat, but was dotted with numerous small hills, the exception being that part of the present city known as the Marais, which was one huge swamp.
In any case, the Romans, who always liked to locate along a river, seemed to have taken a fancy to Lutetia and decided to stay. They built an aqueduct, baths and an arena on the left side of the river, and where Notre-Dame now stands, they built a temple. They also built a temple on top of the high hill to the north of the river and that they dedicated to Mercury. And, naturally, they also built bridges. The very first of these was the PetitPont, which linked the city with Orleans, another Roman settlement, and, therefore, with their own capital in Italy; the second was the Pont-au-Change, which linked the city with the north. However, contrary to what you might think, all of these bridges were of wood so that they could be destroyed easily in case of attack. They had, in consequence, to be rebuilt many itmes. They were not built out of stone until many centuries later. The original inhabitants, not being a warlike people, quickly became absorbed by the new culture, so that by the year 360 Paris had become so important to the Romans that Julien, called the Apostate, had himself crowned Emperor of Rome in Lutetia. By this time, however, the city was already known as Paris, an adaptation from the word Parisii.
About a hundred years before Julien had himself crowned Emperor, Christianity had been introduced into Paris by Saint Denis, after whom the Rue St. Denis and the Town of St. Denis are named. Saint Denis became the first Bishop of Paris and is also the Patron Saint of France so that the Oriflamme, the battle standard of the ancient French Kings, is also called the banner of Saint Denis. However, he incurred the enmity of the Emperor Domitian, who had him and two of his companions beheaded on the hill then known as the Hill of Mercury, which, as time went on, then became known as the Montmartre or the Hill of the Martyrs. This was in the year 272 A.D. As you will soon learn when we come to study the huge murals which depict the history of France at the Panthcon, after Saint Denis was executed he picked up his head, and, putting it under his arm, walked all the way to the town of St. Denis, where he collapsed and was buried by a pious woman. However, you don’t have to believe this story if you don’t want to.
If we now jump one hundred fifty years, we come to another Patron Saint of Paris-Saint Genevieve-who was more successful in her mission, for she converted to Christianity no less a person than Clovis, the first King of France, as well as his wife Clotilde. Saint Genevieve was born at Nanterre, a little town to the west of Paris, during the first part of the fifth century, or to be exact, in the year 422. Like Joan of Arc, she had been a shepherdess, but after the death of her parents, she removed to Paris where she remained for the rest of her life. Saint Genevieve, to whose memory you will find a number of monuments and churches in Paris, appears to have been a woman of great piety who devoted herself unselfishly to the service of her fellowmen, and their conversion to Christianity. The story has it that when Attila besieged Paris it was she who persuaded him to spare the city. However, you can follow the life of this remarkable woman all the way from her childhood to her death at the age of ninety—ond that in spite of constant fasting-much better in the huge murals, by Puvis de Chavannes and others on the walls of the Pantheon than I could tell you here.
When Clovis became King of France, the great Roman Empire was already falling apart. The next important event in the history of Paris took place in 870 when the Norsemen tried to capture Paris, and, failing in that, settled in Normandy where they have been ever since. But all this was still only a beginning. Up until the year 1000, Paris was still very much of an island city. But then it started to spread out across the river on both sides, first to the Left Bank and then to the Right. It was not until then that Paris became a walled city. The first city wall to be erected around Paris was the wall put up by Phil ippe-Auguste in 1190. This wall enclosed those parts of the city which had spread across the river and a good walker could probably have circled it without undue exertions. As the city expanded, additional walls had to be built. The first of these were the walls put up by Charles V in 1367; the next were the walls put up by Henry IV in 1608; and the last were the walls put up on the Left Bank of the river by Louis XIV in 1671. Incidentally, just in case you have not already noticed this, the red, dotted lines shown in some of the pictorial maps of Paris in your Michelin Guide, represent the location of Philippe-Augustus’s first wall, and when we get to the Pantheon, I will show you a considerable section of this wall that is still standing.
By the year 1328, we are told, the population of’ Paris had already grown to one hundred thousand. However, it continued very much as a medieval city until the reign of Louis XIV, whose portrait, with the flowing black wig and the ermine robe, by Rigaud, you have, no doubt, often seen. It was Louis XIV who first started to modernize Paris, and it was he who established the motto, “Surete, Proprete, Clarte”-Security, Cleanliness, Clarity. But Louis XIV’s century was a very remarkable century in many other respects also, for not only was the city beautified in many ways by Louis XIV’s indefatigable Minister Colbert, but art, literature, science, the drama, and even excellence in craftsmanship were encouraged in every way possible. Out of this century came such men as Cornielle, Racine, Moliere, La Fontaine, Boileau, Bossuet Le Brun, Mansart and La Tour. It has, therefore not without reason been called “Le Grand Siecle,” just as Louis XIV was known as “Le Grand Monarque.” And now, let us get back to the Cite.
In spite of the fact that the city gradually spread out to the other banks of the river the lie de la Cite remained for a long time the administrative center of Paris. Hugh Capet, who became King of France in 987> was the first King to enlarge the administrative buildings left by the Romans and so lay the foundation of what is now the Palace of justice and the adjacent Conciergerie. After him, this palace was occupied by twelve French Kings, of which Saint Louis was the ninth. Notre-Dame was started in 1163, or just about thirty years before Philippe-Auguste built his wall. It was started under the reign of Louis VII (1137-1180); it was still under construction during the reign of Philippe-Auguste (1180-1223), and it was not completed until 1270, the year in which Saint Louis died. But this was the time of the Crusades and at that time Paris was profoundly religious. Sainte-Chapelle, which is the only other church remaining on the Cite, though at one time we are told, there were no less than twenty, was started in 1248 at the order of Saint Louis as a repository for the Crown of Thorns. It took but thirty-three months to complete, so that it was finished before Notre-Dame. As I already mentioned when I described the Louvre, the French Kings continued to live on the Cite until the time of Charles V, when the riots led by Etienne Marcel induced Charles V to leave it for a safer location.
Unfortunately, nothing remains of the old city on this island except Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie, as it was during the early days of Paris. The entire center of the Cite was demolished by Baron Haussmann when he started to modernize Paris. Even the square in front of Notre-Dame dates from Baron Haussmann’s time. Before that, the houses around it came right up to cathedral and one certainly could not get much of a view of it then. We are also told that the Place Dauphine, which is near the Pont-Neuf end of the island, is just about the only spot on the Cite which still looks as it did during the sixteenth century, and even here, only one house is said to date from that period. The only reason this little square escaped the hands of the house-wreckers was because the Baron had died before he had a chance to demolish it, and apparently, no one has had the heart to do it since.
Well, now, I think we have been talking about the Cite long enough, so let us take a look at one more thing -its bridges. The Ile da la Cite and the Ile St. Louis account for fourteen out of the thirty-seven bridges that cross the Seine at Paris. Of this, the Pont-Neuf, over which we will walk tomorrow, is the oldest and the best known. This bridge was started in 1578 under the reign of Henry III and completed under the reign of Henry IV, whom the French called “Le Vert-Galant,” which might be roughly translated into “lively old boy.” He was the first man to cross it, and since there is a large equestrian statue of him on the little plaza which extends out from the bridge at its midpoint, the man who has been on it the longest.
This just about concludes our account of the founding and early history of Paris. Tomorrow we shall cross over to this island to visit the three points of interest for which the Cite is known: namely, the Conciergerie, Sainte-Chapelle, which is right next to it, and Notre-Dame, which is just a short walk from the first two. I shall meet you again at our usual rendezvous, the Cafe de la Paix, tomorrow morning at ten. However, just because I have had you meet me at this cafe every day now since we came to Paris, I hope you will not get the idea that I am getting a commission from it. I don’t. It is just because everybody who comes to Paris will meet everybody else who comes to Paris there sooner or later. Incidentally, this cafe also serves very good meals. And if this seemingly casual remark will not get me a free meal there with a small bottle of Beaujolais the next time I come to Paris, I would like to know the reason why.