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In Paris, districts (arrondissements) are simply numbered from 1 to 20: the first district is right in the middle of the city and the others are arranged around it in a clockwise spiral. This guide will highlight the main sites in each district so that you can make the most of your trip to Paris.

1st: People come from all over to visit the Louvre, one of the world’s finest museums, and then walk in the Tuileries Gardens, opposite the Pyramid. Place Vendôme is home to Paris’ jewelers (Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron.) and whilst haute couture creators such as Yves St-Laurent or Christian Dior can be found on rue Saint-Honoré. For more affordable prices, go to the Forum des Halles, inner Paris’s largest shopping mall.

2nd: West from Rue de Richelieu is the “theatre district”: a good dozen can be found in this part of town. The 2nd district, is also a great place to sample typical Parisian atmosphere: little passageways and arcades full of shops and small cafés, abound around Boulevard Montmartre and Rue Croix-des-petits-champs.

3rd: The Marais boasts the most beautiful private mansions dating from the Middle Ages, such as the Hôtel de Rohan or de Sal, in Rue de Sévigné, where the rampart walk once was. Paris’s historical museum, the Carnavalet, is also situated here.

4th: The 4th is probably the best place in Paris to stroll. Opposite l’Hôtel de Ville (meaning townhall), are the two islands of Paris, l’Ile de la Cité and l’Ile St-Louis: don’t miss Notre-Dame and Place Dauphine on the former, and a walk in the main street of the latter. Place des Vosges is one of Paris’s most famous plaza and finally, the main focus for contemporary art in France is also in this part of town, at the Beaubourg/Pompidou Centre.

5th: Known together with the 6th district as Quartier Latin (the Latin quarter), this is the student district. Around the Panthéon, within a 100-metre radius, all the most prestigious high schools and universities have formed a scholarly nucleus. If you fancy a walk, visit the Jardin des Plantes and its zoo and the amphitheatre of Lutetia, a vestige of Roman times. The Museum of the Middle Ages is in the Square de Cluny, and the quays host hundreds of second-hand books sellers. At night, thousands of young people gather on the Place de la Contrescarpe and Rue Mouffetard.

6th: The Rues de Buci, de Seine, Dauphine and Mazarine, and the area between Boulevard St-Germain and the Seine provide perfect examples of Parisian charm: you can find shops and cafés, and busy pubs at night. For a quieter atmosphere, wander through the Luxembourg Gardens, or for more shopping, check out Rue de Rennes, where there is much to see.

7th: Generaly called “the ministries district”, it also hosts some of Paris most famous monuments: the Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, the Champ de Mars and L’Ecole Militaire. Between Quai Voltaire and Rue de l’Université, hundreds of antique dealers will welcome you in Carré Rive Gauche (literally the left bank square). For more art, the Orsay Museum is absolutely marvellous.

8th: A visit here should obviously start with the Champs-Elysées, the most popular avenue in the world, which starts from the Etoile Plaza and ends on the Place de la Concorde. Also to be seen are the Madeleine Church and the Parc Monceau, a paradise for joggers. Shopping for all things musical should be done on Rue de Rome and for culture, do not miss the Jacquemart-André Museum, the Grand and Petit Palais, and the Musée de la Découverte, Paris’s best science museum.

9th: The Opéra is the monument to visit in this district, but there are also other things to do: the Musée Grévin (Pais equivalent for Tussaud’s in London), a walk in New Athens, around the metro station St-Georges. Most of all, this district is famous for its department stores on Boulevard Hausmann: Printemps, the Galeries Lafayette and Marks & Spencer.

10th: Along the Canal St-Martin are the Quai de Valmy and Jemmapes and a stroll here makes one of the nicest walks in Paris. If you start from Rue du Temple and head down to Place de Stalingrad you will pass several locks and barges.

11th: This district has some of the finest Parisian nightspots: Rue Oberkampf is very trendy and the Rues de la Roquette and de Lappe are more popular than ever.

12th: Paris’s Marina is there, spreading from the River Seine to the Place de la Bastille and its fabulous Opera theatre. The Palais Omnisport Paris-Bercy hosts many spectacular events including concerts and sports fixtures – unfortunately often sold out! East of the city itself but still in the 12th district is the Bois de Vincennes, a large park with a lake.

13th: The eastern part of this district is often called “Chinatown”: it houses an incredible quantity of Chinese and Asian restaurants and shops, and even massive Oriental superstores. Paris’s brand new huge library is by the river, on the Quai de la Gare. In the western part, stroll in the nice village of La Butte-aux-Cailles, a Parisian gem, and on Place d’Italie, you will find Europe’s biggest cinema screen.

14th: Rue d’Alésia is the perfect place for clothes shopping, retail temptation stretching from one end of the street to the other. The parc Montsouris is Paris’s nicest park, and just opposite it is the International Universitary Residence, which deserves a visit for its medley of international architectural styles. Finally on the Denfert-Rochereau Plaza stands a huge bronze statue of a lion.

15th: By the river you can find the very beautiful Citroen gardens (parc André Citroen), named after the car manufacturer who had his first factory there. Up North but still facing the Seine are Paris’s skyscrapers, dominating a replica (or the first model?) of the Statue of Liberty.

16th: It is generally known as the smartest district of Paris – the Trocadero offers a nice view of the city as well as two museums (Marine Museum and Museum of Mankind). Avenue Foch is impressive, as is the Parc des Princes (Paris Stadium). West from the ring road, streches the Bois de Boulogne, the western equivalent of Bois de Vincennes.

18th: The most interesting spot in this district is without doubt the Sacré-Coeur basilica and the surrounding streets. Although now rather tourist-ridden, it is still incredibely charming and the view from the stairs of the basilica will absolutely stun you. Also famous in the 18th is the Pigalle area (Boulevards de Clichy and de Rochechouart) and its nightlife: bars, clubs, etc. This is Paris’s red-light district.

19th: The Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in La Villette was founded to be science’s showcase in Paris, with great success, thanks largely to La Géode, a totally spherical cinema. Les Buttes Chaumont is an attractive park and you can finish a walk through here at the second part of the canal previously mentionned.

20th: The Père Lachaise cemetery has become one of Paris’s most visited places, probably because many famous artists are buried here. Jim Morrison’s memory is forever cherished here, and his grave covered with flowers. You might find some of your long-lost idols here!

History of Paris

If Paris is undeniably the center of French civilization, it is also in many ways the center of the Continent; perhaps more than any other city, its history has been Europe’s history, the culture it has dictated, Europe’s culture and, thanks to the long arm of Occidental influence, world culture. The history of Paris is a story of millions fighting to get in (whether to burn and loot or to bask in the city’s glory), and of ideas, and sometimes armies, pouring out to conquer the world.

The sleepy Gallo-Roman burg of Lutetia Parisorum sprang into existence in 52 BC, on a site blessed by the fertile confluence of Seine and Marne and surrounded by hills facilitating its defense. By the year 360 it had changed its name to Paris and become influent enough to host the crowning of Julian as Emperor. During that late Roman period and into the early Middle Ages, everybody wanted in, but not all were successful: Germanic peoples invaded in the 3rd , and the Ile de la Cité became the town’s center; Saint Genevieve repelled the Huns in 451, only to have the Franks take over a century later; Eudes, Count of Paris and the first Capetian, turned back the Normans in 886, but not before they had burned, occupied, and rebuilt the city.

Thanks to Eudes’ line, a relative stability finally came to Paris. Hugues Capet was crowned here, along with his son, in 987, and the town benefited, growing rapidly and becoming by the 11th century a large medieval city with surrounding wall and a monopolizing trade mafia, the ‘water merchants.’

During the 12th century, the merchants’ provost became mayor, but such corruption quickly became moot, as Paris already belonged to France and Europe as much as to its own burghers. Philippe-Auguste moved the walls out to contain the fast-expanding city, a decision which would often prove necessary to later leaders (Etienne Marcel, 14th century.; Louis XII, 17th c.; Tax-Farmers’ Wall, 18th c.; Thiers [annexation of then-suburbs], 19th c.). As commerce, craft, and consequently, construction boomed, Notre-Dame established the city as a leader in Gothic architecture. Paris became an international center for students, monks, and teachers, resulting in the founding of the University of Paris in 1215 and of the Sorbonne in 1257.

Paris was now established as the cultural center of Europe, until the Hundred Years’ War ‘ in which Joan of Arc offered thanks to Saint-Denis at his basilica – froze its expansion. The intense construction (e.g., Saint Eustache and Louvre additions) and refined civilization of the Renaissance, under Francis I, broke this stasis. The 16th century was also a time of religious violence and political turmoil, exemplified by Catherine de Medici’s massacre of Protestants (primarily in Paris, on Saint Bartholomew’s Day, 1572), Henry III’s flight from Paris, and Henry IV’s return and proclamation that ‘Paris deserves a Mass.’

The 17th century saw the creation of the Ile Saint-Louis, so central to the myth of modern Paris, and the earliest example of suburban flight’the move of the monarchy, in full flower under the Sun King, to the opulent palace at Versailles west of Paris. But the kings of France had a rendezvous with history: the bloody Revolution put an end to their privilege, beginning in 1789 with the sack of the Bastille, and modern Europe was born. Unfortunately, the birth was not an easy one; the Revolution and Terror cost Paris numerous architectural treasures (mostly religious edifices) as well as the heads of many of its leading citizens. Napoleon came, and centralized France and his empire around the capital, enriching Paris with the spoils of war. But it was his nephew Napoleon III, with his prefect and city planner, Baron Haussmann, who shaped modern Paris more than anyone else. He created the wide boulevards and distinctive buildings that became the image of Paris to millions the world over, but destroyed much of the old city’s charm and cohesion in the process.

Revolutions, sacks, and frequent changes of government continued to rock Paris throughout the 19th century, but did not prevent the city from renewing its place as cultural center of Europe, notably during the Restoration (1814-30) and the Belle Epoque at the end of the century. A series of exhibits from 1874-86 introduced Impressionism to the world and crowned Paris art capital of the world, a title it would retain until World War II. The city was also a center for technology and sports: by the turn of the century, Mr. Eiffel’s tall Tower (1887-89) shocked the world at the Fair, and Paris opened its Métro (1899) and hosted the Olympic Games (1900).

Upheaval and war would haunt Europe during most of the 20th century. Paris fared better than some in both world wars, and knew a period of unparalleled cultural importance before and after World War I, when it was home to Picasso, Joyce, Hemingway, and dozens of artistic greats. Paris also became the home of a distinctly European variant of that American music that would dominate the century, jazz.

Following World War II, during which the Germans occupied the city for four years before the Allies flooded in on August 25, 1944, Paris knew a 30-year period of prosperity. During these ‘trente glorieuses’ or thirty glorious years, population decline and political revolt, culminating in the student riots of May 1968, accompanied a continued intellectual influence. In 1975, a much-needed reform was effected, granting Paris an elected mayor for the first time: the continuing political weight of the city, despite a national effort to decentralize in favor of provincial capitals, is illustrated by the eventual election as President of Paris’ first mayor, Jacques Chirac.

At the end of this period, the face of the city also began to change again, with the destruction of the central Halles (market halls) and their replacement with an underground shopping mall(1971-81); the construction of the Boulevard Périphérique, a highway encircling the city (1973), and the modernist Pompidou Centre(1977); and, under the ambitious public-works program of President Mitterrand, the opening of the Louvre Pyramid (1989) and the growing importance of the exterior La Défense district, a futuristic agglomeration of office towers and avant-garde sculpture.

Today, although much of the power it once held now resides in cities like London, New York, and Tokyo, Paris remains uniquely central to Europe and the world. High-speed trains, benefiting from the geographic situation that has always favored Paris’ importance, get diplomats and housewives from the French capital to London (by way of the Channel Tunnel) and Brussels in record times. Meanwhile, inside the ancient city and in its suburbs, amid burgeoning tourism, homegrown rap and techno music, social dysfunction, continued population loss, new construction, relentless immigration, the decline of small business, European integration, and the rise of the new center-left, life goes on.