The city of Paris is over two millennia old. It was
founded on an island 375 kilometres away from the
estuary on the Seine on the English Channel. In the
prehistoric era, the Seine hollowed out a bowl in the
earth, which the city now occupies. It is divided into
the Right Bank and the Left Bank, which are terms
designating location in relation to the Seine.
As a matter of fact, the present-day site of Paris was
settled as far back as 5000 BC. Mammoth bones and the
remains of reindeer and deer from that time were
discovered in a mine at Beaugrenelle in 1886. Neolithic
tombs have been excavated in the courtyards of the
Louvre. Traces of a prehistoric workshop have been
detected, as well.
The first permanent settlers were hunters and gatherers.
The area enjoyed a mild climate throughout the year due
to the flat topography, with the hills of Montmartre
being an exception. The highest point in the city is at
129 metres above sea level. However, it was first and
foremost the Seine that brought the first settlers. The
river is navigable all year round, and forms a network
of rivers with its tributaries, which allowed settlers
to travel throughout a large region. Several canoes
dating from around 4000 BC were discovered at Bercy in
1991. Eventually, the river transformed the area into a
major trade junction.
The Ile de la Cité was a haven in the middle of the
river. This is the biggest island and the historic core
of Paris, where a fort was erected. What’s more, Celtic
tribes arrived in the region, but the first important
village was that of the Gauls around 250 BC. They
constructed a bridge across the Seine. Paris was then
called Lutetia, a town of the Gaulish Parisii tribe. It
received its current name around 400 AD.
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In 52 BC, Lutetia was conquered by Labienus, a
lieutenant of the Roman Empire. For centuries, Gauls and
Romans lived side by side, as the Romans were tolerant
in terms of religion. Over time, Lutetia became a major
Imperial trade centre. The Parisian amphitheatre and
ancient public baths are the remnants of this
Gallo-Roman city. Today, the city’s Medieval museum,
Musée de Cluny, is located in the baths which are
visible from the street.
Over the course of Roman rule, the Gauls acquired many
of the Romans’ qualities, yet sustained a distinct
identity. Under the Edict of Emperor Caracalla of 212
AD, all inhabitants of the Roman Empire became citizens.
The differences between Romans and Gauls were
neutralized with the advent of Christianity in the 3rd
Century. However, afterwards insecurity reappeared in
the Empire. Pagans threatened and later settled in the
Roman Empire, which collapsed when Rome was sacked in