Over a period of more than 2,000 years, Paris has been attacked by outside invaders, ravaged by disease, and wrought by religious conflict; it has also served as the site for some of the world’s greatest cultural, political and artistic achievements. It all adds up to a long and storied history.

Once called Lutetia, the city was renamed in 212 AD after the Parisii, a Celtic tribe that had settled the area in the 3rd century BC. Subsequent centuries brought Roman, Frankish (a Germanic people who lived north and east of the Lower Rhine) and Norman (people for which France’s Normandy region is named) invaders, as well as a close call with the forces of the great plunderer Attila the Hun in 451. Legend has it that a prayer marathon led by Saint Genevieve, today the city’s patron saint, diverted Attila away from Paris and saved the city. 

Christianization had begun around 250 AD, although it wasn’t until 1163 that construction began on medieval cathedrals such as Notre Dame, which took nearly two centuries to complete. Notre Dame and Saint-Chapelle, famous for its stained glass, are among the city’s most recognizable icons and some of Europe’s finest examples of Gothic architecture.

The late-14th and early 15th centuries brought war with England and the devastating Black Death pandemic, as well as internal revolts stemming from popular discontent with the monarchy’s power and excessive taxation. Violence between Catholics and Protestants gripped the city beginning in the early 16th century and culminated in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, where an estimated 3,000 Protestants died at the hands of Catholic mobs urged on by King Charles IX. The 16th and 17th centuries, however, were also the apex of the French Renaissance (French for “rebirth), which saw numerous innovations in philosophy and fine arts such as painting, music and architecture. 

In 1789, the French Revolution marked the end of the monarchy and prompted the Reign of Terror, a 10-year period of chaos and executions that ended when Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in 1799. Before his defeat in 1814, Napoleon, who saw Paris as a “New Rome,” erected a number of public monuments, some of which were conscious copies of great Roman buildings.

The Industrial Revolution ushered in a period of breakneck growth. Workers from the countryside flocked to Paris swelling its population to 900,000 and making it the second-largest city in Europe after London. Paris began to adopt its present-day look and layout in the mid-19th century when Baron Haussman, charged with modernizing the city by Emperor Napoleon III, demolished much of the old city to create a New Paris of wide, straight boulevards, expansive gardens and uniform building heights. 

During the Belle Epoque era of the late 19th century, Paris soared to new highs, and lows. Impressionist painting and art nouveau (French for “new art”) architecture added to the city’s unique identity, as did brothels and cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge, which contributed to Paris’ hedonistic reputation as the “sin capital of Europe.” Following World War One, Paris became home to the “Lost Generation” of English-speaking writers, with figures such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, as well as painters like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, calling the city home. In 1940, Paris fell to Germany’s Nazi forces, beginning an occupation that would last four years. 

Then, the city evoluted slowly for the last sixty years but still, particularly under the Presidency of George Pompidou (1969-1974), François Mitterrand (1981-1995- he ordered the contruction of the Louvre pyramid by Pei) and Jacques Chirac (1995-2007).  

Today Paris is a major global city and business center, and it holds a mystique that makes it the three most visited cities in the world along with London and Bangkok (2014).