Going to Paris soon and want to know more about the City of Light? Awesome! That’s exactly what you’re going to get with this article.
As a French person, if there is one thing I always loved about my country it’s its culture and history!
There are so many things to know about France and these little culture facts about Paris will help you understand what French culture is all about!
So, enough for the small talk now! Let’s get down to business and discover the most interesting fun facts about Paris.
Like many European cities, Paris was founded by the Romans, in the 3rd century BC. Back then it was named Lutetia. In Latin, Lutetia means “place near a swamp”
With time, the name change to become Paris. It took its name from the Parisii, a Celtic community that used to live on the banks of the River Seine.
The Eiffel Tower is the most famous landmark in Paris and that, for many reasons! There are so many interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower but firstly, let’s start with why it was built!
The Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair in 1889. It took 2 years, 2 months and 5 years to build it and was meant to be dismantled after 20 years.
The Eiffel Tower was particularly disliked by Parisians by then as it was extremely high compared to any other building in Paris and therefore visible from everywhere but also because there was no obvious purpose to the tower rather than represent the World Fair.
However, with time Parisians started to like it as it became the symbol of the city and more importantly, it found its purpose. It is now used for radio transmissions broadcast from the antenna at the top.
During World War 1, the French army would use the antenna at the top of the Eiffel Tower was used to intercept German spy messages.
They intercepted messages naming Mata Hari as a German spy. That’s how she was accused of spying against France.
We discovered over 100 years later than Mata Hari might have been the subject of revenge rather than anything else but that’s another topic. If you’d like to know more about this, there is a very interesting article on National Geographic.
And yes! Even though there wasn’t a purpose for the structure, there definitely was a reason! The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution, specifically the fall of La Bastille.
The fall of La Bastille happened on the 14th of July 1789 and became since our national day! Hence being called Bastille day.
It was created in 1933 by the city of Paris and the amazing thing about it is that it still owns it now!
The Clos Montmartre vineyard is the only vineyard left in Paris. As you can imagine, the bottles are quite pricey (starts at about 50 euros).
That said though, it doesn’t mean it’s a good wine. Actually it’s not particularly good wine, but it is the only wine produced in Paris.
This fact is worth being pointed out because of the irony in it. Pont Neuf in french means New Bridge.
In conclusion, the new bridge is actually the oldest in Paris! See? Quite a good fun fact about Paris right?
It has been built in 1604.
This includes cities in the USA, Sweden, Panama…
When we think of Paris, we always think of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame but there is so much more to see! Paris is the capital of culture! If you love art and history, you will get up to 2000 landmarks to choose from!
The city of Paris boasts more than 450 parks and gardens! They cover 3,000 hectares and contain more 250,000 trees. Not bad right?
Paris is one of the most popular filming locations in the world. If you walk around Paris, you will very likely see at least one movie being filmed.
If not, you will bump into all sorts of photoshoots for the fashion industry and of course many influencers!
Amongst the most famous movies & TV shows that were shot in Paris, you will find: Mission impossible, Amelie, 50 shades of Grey, Gossip Girl, Godzilla, the Da Vinci Code…
Unexpectedly, it is totally free to shoot movies and series in Paris. This probably also explains why Paris is popular for movies. Who wouldn’t want to get Paris in the background for free?
You’d only need to pay a small fee to the city if you’d use a public garden or museum in a shot.
Only one STOP sign in Paris? Are you kidding? Nope, I’m super serious! You can spend all day on Google Street View if you want, but you will only find that one! It’s located in the 16th arrondissement, along the River Seine.
Before you go off thinking that Parisians are just crazy drivers, don’t worry, there are other rules.
Traffic in Paris is controlled by either traffic lights or “Priorite a droite”, which is the rule saying that you have to give way to cars on your right.
Located in La defense, Paris’ business district, the Tour First was built in 1974 and is still the tallest skyscraper in France. It’s 231m high.
Just to give you an idea, the Eiffel Tower is 300 m.
If you come from the USA, you won’t be impressed by how high our buildings are in France! If you come from Ireland, you’ll think France is doing well! 😉
Paris metro was opened in 1900 which makes it the second oldest in the world, right after London Tube.
Over 6 million Parisians use it! It’s the most popular way of transportation in the French capital and that for a reason: it’s very convenient! As a matter of fact, it is said that every building in Paris is within 500m of a metro station. No matter where you are, you will find a metro station nearby.
If the “metro” is known as tube in London, subway in New-York and underground in most countries, it is also called metro in 55 countries. That name was taken from the Paris Metropolitan!
Quite cool right?
Not much of a fun fact about Paris but still something that needs to be pointed out when we are talking about interesting facts about Paris.
Diana, Princess of Wales, died in hospital on the 31st of August 1997 after a car crash in a road tunnel on Pont de l’Alma.
Although the Pont de l’Alma became sadly famous after that, it is still today a major tourist site in Paris.
Located 13 kilometres south of the city, near Orly Airport, the marché de Rungis is known to be the world’s largest fresh food market in the world. It covers 232 hectares, over 13 000 people work there and 1,68,000 tons of fresh food go through this market per year.
That’s where most restaurants in Paris get their products from. So if you go to a restaurant to experience some amazing french food, chances are that it will come from there!
And yes! The most visited landmark in Paris is Notre Dame and not the Eiffel Tower!
Notre Dame gets about 13 million visitors per year which is almost twice what the Eiffel Tower gets!
Obviously these numbers have changed since the fire of 2019 but still quite an interesting fact about Paris!
Alongside with Milan, New-York and London, Paris is known to be a (if not the) Fashion capital of the world.
Amongst the 4, it is “the most glamorous and competitive of the world’s fashion capitals” (according to the New Yorker).
Paris is home to the most renowned haute couture designers such as Channel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Gaultier, Givenchy, Cardin or Christian Lacroix.
Historically, the Paris Fashion is the one that provided the most drama. Paris was also the first of the four cities to hold events specifically for the press.
The Louvre art museum is the largest art museum in the world.
Located in the centre of Paris, it’s part of a historic estate known as the Louvre Palace.
The first building used to be a fortress. Later on, it became a royal residence. In 1692, Louis XIV turned it into two art academies.
A hundred years later, the Louvre Museum officially opened with 537 paintings.
Today, the Louvre owns a total of 460,00 pieces but only 35,000 are shown to the public
There are many ghost stations in Paris. Most of them were closed during WWII and are not used in any kind of ways now.
Two stations were built but ended up never opening. Some were opened and then closed.
Anyway, you get my point… things change! And there are so many more underground tunnels and stations than we think.
That said, amongst all of this, one sets itself apart: La Porte de Lilas.
La Porte de Lilas is used as a film set! So when you see the Paris Metro in movies, chances are that it’s actually this station.
And yes, in French as well we use some slang. “Chickens”, or Les Poulets as we’d say in french, is a very common word used to refer to Policemen. It’s not only used in Paris, it is very common everywhere in the country. However, the origins of the story are in Paris.
In 1871, the city of Paris was facing the riots of the Commune. A lot of buildings were vandalized and burnt down as part of the process, including the police headquarters.
Jules Ferry, mayor of Paris at this time, found them a new place and sent them to the City station, on the île de la Cité.
The new police headquarters replace the Paris poultry market there.
This was the perfect opportunity for some people to come up with a new nickname for the Parisian Policemen
Needless to say that before they knew it, the term “chickens” was used everywhere in the country and by everyone!
The French army is the only army in Europe that still has pigeons trained to carry messages.
“Why?” I hear you asking. Because the French like to think ahead with these things!
The army still trains carrier pigeons so, in the event of a mass collapse of modern telecommunications, they would still be able to communicate with others.
I guess if you’d have read that before the COVID-19 crisis, you would have had a good laugh. After Coronavirus, I think we all realised that these things can happen.
In 1795, the city of Paris was divided into 12 arrondissements. Numbered from west to east, the arrondissements 1 to 9 were located on the right bank of the River Seine and 10 to 12 on the left bank.
In 1859, Emperor Napoleon III extended it to 20 to include the outside districts into the city.
Nowadays, each arrondissement has its own mayor and council. They are elected every 6 years. Right after the election, all mayors elect one main Mayor who will be the Mayor of Paris.
If you look at a map of Paris, you will realise that the arrondissements are numbered following an outward clockwise spiral, basically… a snail!
And yes, we do love our snails in France!
Actually you know what, I’ve got a dad jokes for this one!
“Do you know why the french eat snail? Because they don’t like fast food.”
Paris hasn’t always been our capital. As a matter of fact, France had quite a different capitals through the years but no matter what, Paris would always come back at some point!
That said, it wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t for Clovis I, king of the Franks. He surprisingly chose Paris as his capital in 508. This was the first time Paris was made capital! (first but definitely not the last).
France had other capitals through history including Tours, Versailles, Bourges, Troyes…
In 1900, Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle.
As you might have noticed by now, Paris likes to build important things for those. As the city was planning to host over 50 million visitors for the exposition, it was decided a new station would be built.
This train station was the Gare d’Orsay.
Over 75 years after, it was decided it would be turned into a museum, now known as the Musee d’Orsay.
As surprising as this might be for you, the guillotine was invented as a much gentler method of execution.
Back then, people would be beheaded. Unfortunately, sometimes the person who would do it would miss, making execution rather horrible and painful!
The guillotine was invented by Joseph Guillotin (although he never intended for the invention to be named after him). It was quick and efficient and considered as the best method of execution by the french.
As a matter of fact, it was still the method of execution in France until 1981, when the death penalty was abolished.
Speaking of the guillotine, if there is one thing the French are known for it’s for killing their own king and queen!
In 1789, the French revolution starts. At that point, the new revolutionary government erected a guillotine on the Place de la Revolution, now known as Place de la Concorde.
In 1793, the French take down the French monarchy and execute the king and queen: King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
With the French revolution, France puts an end to centuries of monarchy and becomes a democracy.
But the impact of the french revolution shined way further than in France.
In 1789, after the fall of La Bastille, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was published.
This declaration became the foundation of the world’s human rights.
Pretty awesome, right?
I hope you enjoyed these interesting fun facts about Paris and that it will help you understand a bit better the french culture and what it is all about.
France had a massive impact on the world through history and visiting Paris is a great way to discover how!
If you’d like to know more about Paris and the French, I’d also recommend checking out these books about France!
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