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The Economic History of Paris

Île Sainte-Louis in the foreground
Île de la Cité behind it

It is sometimes said that cities develop where land routes and water routes cross, but this gets the cart before the horse. The crossing of the land route with a river develops where there fording of the river is easiest. Paris arose where an island, Île de la Cité, in the Seine River facilitated the crossing and created a defensible site for a settlement.

There is now another island close by, Île Sainte-Louis, but it did not exist until 1627 when scattered islets were connected by infilling.

Paris occupies a depression hollowed out by the Seine River. The Seine flows from the southeast toward the northwest and then turns west and further on southwest as it leaves the city site. Paris is thus located at a bend in the river and surrounded by high ground.

Earliest History

A Celtic tribe known as the Parisii settled on the Ile de la Cité by about 200 BCE. The Romans under Julius Caesar came to conquer it, but the inhabitants burned their town rather than turn it over to his forces. The Romans rebuilt the town on the island and it prospered and grew beyond the boundaries of the old Celtic city. The island town was known by the Latin name Lutetia, which was Latin for Midwater-Dwelling. Because of the burning and the rebuilding, the town subsequently had a Roman structure rather than the original Celtic one.

The island town spread to the left (southern) bank of the Seine. That extension of the town was more vulnerable to attack than the island town. As Roman power waned barbarian (German) raids occurred and finally the left bank extension was destroyed by the 200's CE and all the surviving inhabitants fled to the island refuge. The people of the town, having seen the results of vulnerability, built a stone wall around their island. Interestingly enough the Latin name of Lutetia for the island town did not survive.

But the town was surviving. By about 250 CE it had a bishop appointed by the Catholic Church. By the 300's CE the town was known as Paris, after the original inhabitants, the Parisii (Pa ri sii), probably indicating that the population of the town were predominantly the descendants of the original Celts. In the late 300's a Catholic church was built in the walled city of Paris.

The walled island citadel was not strong enough withstand the onslaught of the Germanic tribe of Salian Franks under the command of Clovis in the late 400's. Clovis made it his capital and Paris remained the capital of the Franks until the late 500's. The Merovingian kings chose a different capital and the line of Charlemagne, the Carolingians, also maintained their capital elsewhere. Paris was left to the control of feudal counts and bishops.

In 987 CE Hugh Capet, the Count of Paris, was elected to the kingship of the Franks and he made Paris his capital. His successors, the Capetian dynasty, maintain Paris as the capital of the kingdom of the Franks.

By the 11th century, with a kingdom to rule the Capetian kings had turned over the governance of Paris to a representative, the prévôt de Paris (provost of Paris). Also by the 11th century business organizations, called guilds had formed. The most important of these guilds was the one of river merchants, marchandise de l'eau. As time went on this guild became more and more important in the control of the city.

In the 12th century the guild of river merchants was able to buy the principal port facility of Paris from the king. A little later this guild was given a charter confirming its monopoly for river trade. In 1190 when the king, Phillip II decided to leave Paris for a year of crusading in Palestine he left governance of Paris to the guild of river merchants rather than his royal representative, the provost of Paris. In the 13th century the guild of river merchants was given the right to collect a tariff on incoming goods. The guild of river merchants was rapidly becoming a power unto itself.

At about this time a spatial structure for Paris was developing that was summed up in the term the city, town and university of Paris. The city of Paris was the ancient city on the Île de la Cité. The town was the market town that grew up on the Right Bank of the Seine. On the Left Bank schools had been founded and they developed into the university section of Paris. When the King gave formal recognition in 1200 to the University of Paris, which had been founded in the latter part of the 1100's, the three-part division of Paris became accepted. The most famous of the universities of Paris, the Sorbonne, was founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon.

In the 14th century Paris was hit by the calamities of war and plague. The bubonic plague devastated the city in the years 1348 and 1349. The Hundred Years' War commenced in 1337 and lasted the rest of the 14th century and more than half of the 15th century. In the resulting turmoil there was a revolt against taxes in 1382. The head of the guild of river merchants, Etienne Marcel, took control of the city in 1356. This first involved executing the royal counselors. Marcel had those counselors killed in the throne room of the royal palace. Marcel attempted to ally Paris with the king of Navarre to displace the authority of the Capetian king. In 1358 when Marcel tried to open the gates of Paris to the Navarrese army some of the people of Paris killed him. Conditions in Paris were relatively quiet in Paris for a couple of decades thereafter.

In 1382 a riot protesting taxes broke out and turned into a rebellion. The rebels had no source of weapons except tools and they adopted mauls (long handled hammers) as their weapon of choice. The King's army armed with swords and other weapons of war destroyed the rebels mercilessly. In punishment for this uprising the King withheld the municipal services that had been provided to Paris.

The most powerful guild in Paris had been the river traders, but the guild of butchers and skinners had also been a significant force. In 1413 the guild of butchers and skinners under the leadership of Simon Caboche very briefly seized power in Paris. The forces of the King put down this insurrection immediately. Another revolt of the Parisians occurred in 1418.

After the 1418 revolt in Paris the Burgundians captured the city as part of the war of competing dynasties for control of the Kingdom of France. The English had resumed warfare in France in 1415 in what came to be known as the Hundred Years War. The English and Burgundians formed an alliance against the competing French dynasty. The Duke of Bedford was then made king of France in 1419 and ruled from Paris.

The competing dynasty and its forces, known as the legitimists continued to fight to regain control of France. Joan of Arc supported the legitimists and she led an unsuccessful attack on Paris in 1429. In 1436 Paris finally fell to the legitimist forces and Charles VII was made king of France. The battles between the legitimists and the English-Burgundian alliance continued until a truce was agreed upon in 1444 which allowed Charles VII to remain king of France.

The 1500's brought the importation to Paris of the new styles of architecture from Italy. The aristocracy began to rebuild their mansions and the monarchy rebuilt government buildings and such major public facilities as the Bridge of Notre Dame. Catherine de Médicis from the Médici family of Florence, Italy married the French prince who later became King Henry II of France. After her husband's death she became the effective ruler of France in the name of her three sons. As part of her rule she had the Palace of the Tuileries in Paris rebuilt and elegant gardens created for it.

During the effective rule of Catherine de Médicis Protestantism became a social movement and the religious battles that ensued seriously perturbed French social and political development.

Paris in 1631

Paris in 1612

The Population of Paris

1350 290
1650 500
1789 524
1801 547
1851 1053
1872 1857
1891 2447
1911 2888
1921 2906
1936 2830
1946 2725
1951 2800

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica 1958

The graph of the population of Paris illustrates that the dramatic growth took place after the French Revolution.

The data after 1800 indicate that the population peaked around 1920 and then declined and stabilized, most likely due to public policy on limiting its population.

Innovations in Paris During the Period of the Restoration

The Creation of the Plan of Modern Paris
in the Last Half of the 19th Century

The overall structure of modern day Paris was created through the vision of Paris shared by Napoleon III and George Hausmann. Napoleon III supplied the political power for the implementation of the plan and Hausmann supplied the legerdemain scheme of financing.

Georges Eugene Hausmann (Baron) was born in Paris in 1809 into a Protestant family of German origin. His education for a vocation was in law but he was musically talented enough to attend classes at the Paris Conservatoire of Music.

By age 21 in 1830 Hausmann had become the sous-prefect for Nérac. His rise in the civil service was rapid and in 1853 at age 44 he reached the pinnacle of success for a Parisian civil servant when he was appointed Prefect de la Seine. The previous prefect had resigned rather than try to implement the plans of Napoleon III for the embellishment of the city. Hausmann found the funds for those plans through a good deal of creative finance. Part of this creative finance involved borrowing 250 million francs in the name of the City of Paris in 1865. One public figure, Jules Ferry, was so perplexed at Hausmann's methods of finance that he published in 1867 an indictment of the schemes entitled Les Comptes fantastique de Hausmann. This did not deter Hausmann and he borrowed another 260 million francs in the name of the city in 1869. However in that year Hausmann was dismissed from the office of Prefect de la Seine by the government of Émile Ollivier.

After his dismissal Hausmann traveled abroad for about a year. Seven years after he returned to France he was elected as deputy of government. He spent his later years writing his memoirs.

(To be continued.)

The Underground of the City

From the earliest days building materials such as stone, clay and gypsum were being mined in the vicinity of the city. This mining went on for almost two thousand years. This left tunnels. Most of these were ultimately filled in, but some were used for the sewer system and other public utilities. The extents of these systems are tabulated below.

Sewers2000 km
Drinking water
1600 km
Water for industry
fire hydrants
1700 km
Compressed air1000 km
Lines for telephones,
telegraph, telex,
police and fire
alarms and traffic
electrical lines10,000
natural gas lines2,300
compressed gas
for street lights
150 km
Subways170 km

The pipes for water, both for drinking and industrial use, are strung in the sewer tunnels. Likewise for the cables for telephones, telegraphs, telex, police and fire alarms and traffic signals. Compressed air was a technology once promoted for supplying power for workshops and elevators. When electric motors were developed they supplanted the compressed air technology.

The electrical and gas lines are buried under the sidewalks. Steam lines were another outdated technology to supply heat to individual homes or business. There are only about two thousand units which are still served by steam lines.

(To be continued.)

The Spatial Arrangement of Paris

The Districts of Paris
Arrondissement Name Area (hectares) Resident Population (1999) Nature Notable Features
1 du Louvre 182.4 16,895 Public InstitutionsLouvre, Les Halles, Palais Royal
2 de la Bourse 99.2 19,640 Business District Bourse, Bibliothque Nationale
3 du Temple 117.1 34,232 Old Residential
4 de l'Htel-de-Ville 160.1 30,671 Mixed Residential Commercial Ile de la Cit, Ile St. Louis, Rue des Ro rs
5 du Panthon
(Latin Quarter)
253.9 58,841 Universities, Residential, Commercial Sorbonne, rue Mouffetard
6 du Luxembourg
St. Germain (Left Bank)
215.2 44,903 Gentrified Residential, Upscale Commercial
7 du Palais-Bourbon 409.1 56,988Ministries and
Wealthy Residential
Eiffel Tower, Muse d'Orsay
8 de l'lyse 388.1 39,303 Residential, Upscale Commercial Champs Elyse, Place de la Madeleine
9 de l'Opra 217.8 55,783 Residential including artists Moulin Rouge, Pigalle
10 de l'Entrept 289.2 89,685 Residential, Bohemian Commercial train stations Gare de l'Est and the Gare du Nord, Canal St Martin
11 de Popincourt 366.6 149,166 Residential Place de la Bastille, New Opera
12 de Reuilly 638.8 136,662 Residential near the park Bois de Vincennes
13 des Gobelins 715 171,577 Residential Chinatown
14 de l'Observatoire 561.4 132,822 Residential, Local Commercial Montparnasse, Cit Universitaire
15 de Vaugirard 849.6 225,467 Varied Residential
16 de Passy 790.5 161,817 Wealthy Residential Bois de Boulogne, Trocadero
17 des Batignolles-Monceau 567 161,138 Varied Residential Arc de Triomph, Parc Monceau
18 des Buttes-Montmartre 599.7 184,581 Residential including artists Church of Sacre Coeur
19 des Buttes-Chaumont 679.4 172,587 Residential, Ethnic Commercial Parce de la Villette, Cit des Sciences et de L'Industrie
20 de Mnilmontant 598.4 183,093 Urban Professional Residential Belleville, Pre-Lachaise cemetery

Paris in 1870

The Business Centers Created to Serve as Poles of Attraction

In the 1950's Paris was experiencing a shift the locus of new office buildings away from the old central district toward the west. The planning authorities in the 1960's decided to counter this haphazard change in the structure of Paris by creating business centers to which business tenants would gravitate. Two of these centers were located on the Seine River. One of these was the Front de Seine located south of the Eiffel Tower on the left bank of the river. A neighborhood of low income housing and factory was razed and in its place twenty tall buildings were built. Sixteen of these buildings had 32 floors and four had 15. Three quarters of the space was for housing and the rest for offices.

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