Neanderthals settled greater Europe in about 200,000 BC. The area now known as France has some of the greatest examples of ancient work including the cave paintings of Lascaux and Gargas. In about 600 B.C., the Greeks and Phoenicians established settlements along the Mediterranean including the colony of Massalia, now known as Marseille.
The Gaulish tribes came into confrontation with the Romans as the two emerging empires collided. The Gauls were defeated in battle, most notably Sentinum and Telamon. Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca fought back against the Romans, recruiting Gaulish mercenaries. In response, Provence was annexed in 122 BC by the Roman Republic. The Consul of Gaul — Julius Caesar — rectified this defeat by conquering all of Gaul. Under this time of Roman rule, the cities of Lugdunum (Lyon) and Narbonensis (Narbonne) were founded.
Gaul was divided into several different provinces by the Romans. Experts at control, the Romans displaced the local population to discourage threats to Roman control. Many Celts were displaced in Aquitania or were enslaved and moved out of Gaul. Roman culture and language also replaced the Gauls, with Vulgar Latin becoming the preferred language.
By the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse. Aquitania had been abandoned to the Visigoths, the Burgundians had created their own kingdom, and northern Gaul was nearly abandoned to the Franks. In 486, Clovis I, leader of the Salian Franks, defeated Syagrius at Soissons and united most of northern and central Gaul under his rule. His leadership included the adoption of Catholicism in 496. Paris was declared the capital and the Merovingian Dynasty was established. However, the kingdom died with Clovis. Frankish inheritance traditions provide that all sons inherit part of the land, so Clovis's four sons created four kingdoms: centered on Paris, Orléans, Soissons, and Rheims. This tradition continued over time, allowing for the borders to change frequently. The Mayors of the Palace, originally the chief advisor to the kings, became the true power over the land with the king's influence largely symbolic.
Muslim invaders arrived in the 700s. After conquering Hispania, they began to attack the Frankish kingdoms. Numerous raids were launched with the successful defense by the mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, at the Battle of Tours earning his high esteem. In 751, his son - Pepin the Short - took the throne and established the Carolingian dynasty as the Kings of the Franks.
Pepin's son, Charlemagne, brought the Carolingian rule to it's peak in the late 700s to early 800s. In 771, Charlemagne reunited the Frankish domains and conquered the Lombards (now northern Italy), incorporated Bavaria, defeated the Avars of the Danubian plain, and advancing the frontier with Islamic Spain as far south as Barcelona. In recognition of his accomplishments, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans, or Roman Emperor in the West, by Pope Leo III in 800.
The Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the area into three areas now represented as France, Germany, and Italy under the rule of the three grandsons of Charlemagne. Charles the Bald ruled Francia Occidentalis. An unbroken Capetian line ruled for 350 years until the accession of Philip VI in 1328. This marked France as the most powerful nation in Europe with a growing populace of over 15 million.
The empire was strong until Charlemagne's grandsons became involved in a squabble over power. Charles the Bald and Louis the German united against their brother Lothair I and the empire was divided. A reunification was briefly held (884–887), but the imperial title ceased to be held in the western realm. The eastern realm (modern Germany), elected the Saxon dynasty of Henry the Fowler to rule. It wasn't until the rule of Louis IX that France became a truly centralized kingdom. Only twelve years old when he became King of France, he was shepherded by his mother, Blanche of Castile. His descendent and one of France's most influential kings, Louis XIV (the "Sun King") came to rule in 1661. A patron of the arts, he worked to establish French opera and placed French culture as some of the most sought after in the world. He also saw the country through multiple wars, civil conflict, and unrest. He reigned until his death in 1715 with the distinction of being the longest-reigning king in European history, ruling for 72 years and 110 days. He was succeeded by his five-year-old great grandson, Louis XV.
The Hundred Years' War was brought about amid tensions between the Houses of Plantagenet and the Capetians. The Plantagenets sought to claim the throne of France from the Valois. This tumultuous time also encompassed the "Black Death", or plague. In addition, France endured several civil wars. All of these factors resulted in a severe loss of life for the French population. These challenges are also credited with awakening French nationalism and forcing the developing nation to evolve politically and militarily.
In the 16th century, the French kingdom began to establish colonies and claim North American territories. Jacques Cartier was one of the first explorers. New France grew, including the towns of Quebec City and Montreal.
The Habsburg-led Holy Roman Empire was splintered by religious conflict. This was especially tense during the Thirty Years War. Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of France, briefly joined the Protestants in 1636 because it was the raison d'état. Imperial Habsburg forces fought back, attacking Champagne and approaching Paris. The French forces won a decisive victory at Rocroi in 1643, formally ending the war with the Truce of Ulm in 1647 and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This peace was short-lived as civil unrest resulted in the Franco-Spanish War in 1653. The was settled by 1659 with France annexing Northern Catalonia.
In the late 1770s, France had lost control of it's colonial empire. Vengeful against the British empire which had stripped away it's colonies, France pledged alliance with the Americans in the American Revolution in 1778. The war was concluded by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, causing Britain to lose its American colonies. France paid for it's contribution with a great debt and was inadequately rewarded with Tobago.
Louis XVI sought to right the financial situation with a group of financial advisors in February 1787. The group was asked to approve a new land tax that would, for the first time, include a tax on the property of nobles and clergy. It did not pass and new systems were created to bridge the shortfall. Debates were often heated and, at one point, Louis XVI ordered the closure of the meeting place of the Assembly. The Assembly met nearby on a tennis court on June 20th, 1789 and pledged "never to separate, and to meet wherever circumstances demand, until the constitution of the kingdom is established and affirmed on solid foundations." Paris was consumed with riots, anarchy, and widespread looting. On July 14th, 1789 the insurgents attacked the Bastille fortress, which also served as a symbol of royal tyranny. The rebellion was quelled, but not before a new order was established, focusing on a more modern state. The date, July 14th, is now celebrated each year.
In an effort to recreate a constitution, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was adopted by the National Assembly in August 1789. It defined individual and collective rights of all of the estates as one. These rights were deemed universal and valid in all times and places, pertaining to human nature itself. The country continued to modernize during this time with the Assembly abolishing feudalism on August 4th, 1789.
The royals did not totally escape the people's wrath during this time of change. A mob from Paris attacked the royal palace at Versailles in October 1789. The royal family moved to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, and tried to flee to Varennes near France's northeastern border. They were discovered in transit and were brought back to Paris. The "Royalist democrats" (those inclined to royal rule) wished to follow the British constitutional model. The "National Party" (the centre or centre-left) also emerged as a power. Despite the many factions, they were able to agree to limit monarch's power and Louis XVI role became largely ceremonial. Louis XVI had to swear an oath to the constitution, and a decree declared that retracting the oath, heading an army for the purpose of making war upon the nation, or permitting anyone to do so in his name would amount to de facto abdication. Under the Constitution of 1791, France would function as a constitutional monarchy.
Under the threat of Austrian and Prussian attack, Louis XVI was suspected of treason. He and his family were exiled to Tuileries Palace in August 1792. The King was tried and convicted on January 21st, 1793 and executed by guillotine. Marie Antoinette was also executed on October 16th. The structure of the national government was in trouble and a new constitution was written on September 20th, 1792. The monarchy was formally abolished and France was declared a republic.
Napoleon worked to expand the control of France and succeeded in defeating the Ottoman forces. He secured a "Concordat" with Pope Pius VII in 1801, re-establishing peaceful relations between church and state in France. He also developed the organization of higher learning, dividing the Institut National into four academies. Of utmost importance, he helped to create the Napoleonic Code. This marked the end of feudalism as the code recognized the principles of civil liberty, equality before the law, and the secular character of the state. In addition, the court system was standardized; all judges were appointed by the national government in Paris. This code spread rapidly throughout Europe and later the world.
In 1804, Napoleon was named Emperor by the senate. Napoleon's rule over the French Empire was constitutional and quite modern. The French army was renamed the Grande Armée in 1805 and Napoleon began to manipulate his role for increasing power. At war with Britain, Napoleon worked out a Franco-Spanish alliance against Portugal, but then seized Spain. Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, was made King of Spain. Spain and Portugal paired up to defeat France using guerilla tactics and the once all-powerful French army was threatened.
In 1812, war broke out with Russia as the start of the Patriotic War. Napoleon assembled the largest army Europe had ever seen to invade Russia. The Grande Armée captured Moscow, but not before the Russians set tactile fire to the city. On the Western Spanish front, French troops continued to be bombarded with guerrilla warfare. Seeing France in a weakened state, areas that had been recently conquered tried to retake their independence. Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of the Nations and abdicated on April 6th, 1814. He was exiled to Elba where he attempted a restoration but was completely defeated at Waterloo in 1815. The conservative Congress of Vienna reversed the political changes that had occurred during the wars and the monarchy was restored with Louis XVIII taking his place as king.
Despite the restoration of a monarchy, all was not well for the royals. Liberals protested the monarchy and elections on May 16th, 1830 were not in favor of King Charles X. In not honoring the elections, Charles X spurred violent opposition with people taking to the streets of Paris and erecting barricades during the "three glorious days" (French Les Trois Glorieuses) of 26–29 of July 1830. Charles X was deposed and replaced by King Louis-Philippe in what became known as the July Revolution. This brought about the Romantic Era which can be characterized by an atmosphere of protest and revolt. In reaction, the July Monarchy sought to stabilize power by outlawing political meetings. This was skirted by calling these clandestine meetings "banquets". This too was soon and outlawed and once again people took to the streets. A call for representative democracy was made and answered as the last King of France abdicated and the French Second Republic was proclaimed. Alphonse Marie Louis de Lamartine became the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the virtual head of government in 1848.
On December 10th, 1848 a new National Legislative Assembly was elected. Composed of royalist sympathizers of both the Legitimist (Bourbon) wing and the Orleanist (Citizen King Louis Phiippe) wing, Louis Napoleon led the assembly with Odilon Barrot as prime minister. However, missteps with an expedition to Rome brought about questions of Napoleon's ability to rule. He was threatened with impeachment but ti was voted down and once again people took to the streets in what was known as "June Days". Unfazed, Louis Napoleon continued to rule and in 1851 proclaimed himself President for Life. Napoleon III of France took the imperial title in 1852 and held it until his downfall in 1870.
The Franco-Prussian War resulted in a loss for France and Otto von Bismarck enforced harsh terms for peace such as German occupation of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. A new French National Assembly was elected on February 8th, 1871 and established the Third Republic. The harsh terms of the peace were unpopular among the French people and the defeat of the Paris Commune led to feelings of national guilt and a desire for vengeance (revanchism).
The 20th century brought the time of belle époque, associated with new cultural developments such as cabaret, can-can, the cinema, and art forms like Impressionism and Art Nouveau. In 1889, the Exposition Universelle came to Paris and brought the construction of the Eiffel Tower as a temporary gate to the fair. It quickly became an iconic, if controversial, symbol of France.
France played a relatively small part in World War I. France was allied with Russia and Serbia, hence it was at war with it's neighbor Germany. The war on the Western Front was fought largely on French soil in trench warfare. Battles included: First Battle of the Marne, Battle of Verdun, Battle of the Somme and the Second Battle of the Marne. Exhausted, the Germans admitted defeat and an end to fighting on November 11, 1918. Peace terms were decided by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. France regained Alsace-Lorraine and Germany was given harsh consequences of being disarmed and forced to take full responsibility for the war and to pay war reparations.
World War II began for France when the Invasion of Poland forced the country to declare war against Germany. At first their moves were defensive and it was known as Drôle de guerre ("the funny sort of war"). in France. Germany began it's attack on the West with the Battle of France in May 1940. The fighting was intense and devastating; in six weeks the French lost 90,000 men. Millions of French fled their land attempting to escape. The capitol fell to the Germans on June 14th, 1940 and Nazi Germany quickly came to occupy three fifths of France's territory. The southeast was left to the Vichy government that worked in collaboration with Germany. Though it was set-up temporarily, it lasted for 4 years and was unique in that it was established constitutionally through the French parliament. It was a repressive, anti-semitic government that aided the Nazis' in deporting 76,000 Jews. On June 6th, 1944 the Allies landed in Normandy. By August 19th, General Leclerc had freed Paris and France was once again free.
A provisional government of the Republic was established and led by General Charles de Gaulle. A new constitution was created on October 13th, 1946 establishing the Fourth Republic under a parliamentary form of government controlled by a series of coalitions. This marked the birth of modern France and the end of it's time as a Colonial Empire. General de Gaulle was elected president in 1958.
Revolts again took place in May 1968 when students revolted, campaigning for educational, labor and governmental reforms, sexual and artistic freedom, and the end of the Vietnam War. Labor joined the movement by engaging in mass strikes. De Gaulle responded by calling a legislative election on June 23rd. He succeeded in increasing the influence of his UDR party and the protests faded away.
Since that time, the French have continued to be world leaders and are an integral part of wider European history, economics, government, and culture. They have led the way as an independent people with a strong national identity and international presence. The country is a founding member of the United Nations, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the G8, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, and the Latin Union. It is also a founding and leading member state of the European Union and the largest EU state by area.
The earliest settlements in modern day Paris are estimated to be around 250 BC by Celtic tribes called the Parisii. It was established as a fishing village near the river Seine. There is some dispute if the area known as the Île de la Citè or the present-day suburb of Nanterre was the location of the first settlements.
The location next to the rive facilitated trade and the city grew prosperous. This was also a great strategic location and after a Celtic uprising in 52 BC the city fell under Roman control. The people of Paris fought the Romans under Vercingetorix and contributed about 8,000 men to his army, but the Romans crushed the rebels and took control of the entire region. The Romans renamed the area Lutetia, a Celtic name for dwelling place in the middle of the waters.
With Roman leadership, the city continued to grow and develop. In the 3rd century, the city was Christianized and St Denis named the first bishop. The process was tumultuous and St. Denis and two companions were decapitated on the hill of Mons Mercurius, which came to be known as Mons Martis (Martyrs's Hill), and is now Montmartre.
Lutetia became Paris in 212 BC. The city's location was both an asset and a risk as it came under almost constant attack from barbarian invaders. To protect itself, the city built defensive city wall. In 357, the Emperor Constantine's nephew Julian arrived in Paris to become the city's governor. Julian was known as "the Apostate" and rebelled against his uncle's declaration of the official religion of Christianity. Julian became the emperor in 361, but died in battle just two years later. Roman rule collapsed later in the 5th century after the area was raided in 451 by Attila the Hun and his army. The city was under threat, but legend holds the piety of Sainte Geneviève and her followers is credited with saving the city. St. Geneviève remains Paris's patron saint to this day.
The city was sacked by Childeric I (Childeric the Frank) just a few years later in 464 BC. His son, Clovis I, made the city his capital and was eventually buried here in 511, alongside St. Geneviève.
The Carolingians replaced the Merovingian kings in 751. Pèpin was proclaimed king of the Franks in 751, with Charlemagne taking over and making the city the capital of the entire Holy Roman Empire. The city continued to be under attack with the Vikings raiding the city in 845 and 885. The people of Paris sought out help from Robert I of France and his brother, Odo, Count of Paris. The brothers lent their aid, helping the city end the Viking's 10 month siege. They were awarded for their aid by becoming co-rulers with their descendent, Hugh Capet, eventually elected King of France in 987. Paris was named the capital and the Capetian dynasty had begun.
The Île-de-Francehe became the playground of French kings, with their power and reach slowly spreading out from Paris. As the center of French rule, Paris developed an increased degree of importance as the royal capital. City districts began to emerge. The Cathedral of Notre Dame began being built in 1163 and became a center of government and religious life. The Left Bank (south of the Seine) also developed with Church-run schools and the Right Bank (north of the Seine) becoming the centre of commerce. To regulate and control trade, a league of merchants was established called the Hanse Parisienne.
The Capetians died out in 1328 with no male heir. Edward III of England claimed the French throne by virtue of his descent (via his mother) from Philip IV of France. This compromise was unacceptable to French barons and The Hundred Years's War began. The war was followed by the equally devastating Black Death. Revolts and outbreaks of plague continued through the 14th century.
The assassination of Louis of Valois led to an outbreak of civil war. The Burgundian and Armagnac parties vied for power of the capital, knowing the victor would take the throne. John the Fearless sought the throne with the help of theologians from the University of Paris. They presented a defence of the murder of Louis of Orléans, but John the Fearless lost his seat in 1409 with the revolt of Simon Caboche. He briefly retook the city in 1417 until his assassination in 1419.
The Valois monarchs came to power in the late 1400s and sought to leave their mark on the city. The city grew rapidly and the population tripled. King Francis I advanced the Louvre and built a court with Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini. However, religious violence that was affecting the rest of the country reached the city. Protestants defied the harsh Catholic doctrine and Paris's predominantly Catholic society had to accommodate a growing Protestant sector. Disputes between the two sides led to intense confrontations and religiously-inspired assassinations and burnings at the stake. on August 24th, 1572 the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre occurred. Catholic mobs killed an estimated 3,000 Protestants on the instructions of King Charles IX.
Charles's successor, King Henry III, attempted to ease tensions between the two sides of the city. He was unsuccessful as Paris's people forced him to flee on May 12th, 1588. This was significant in that it was the first time in Paris's history that a revolt had utilized barricades. Henry III continued to influence what was happening in the city by successfully ordering the duke of Guise and the cardinal of Lorraine assassinated on December 23rd, 1588. The public was now against the king and he was assassinated by a Dominican monk, Jacques Clément, in August 1589. Henry IV wanted to take the throne, but the Holy Union refused him. Henry IV laid siege to Paris with the clergy praying for the city's salvation, leading to the Catholic Reformation. The siege was lifted on August 30th, 1590 and Henry IV took the throne on March 14th, 1594. He made Paris his primary residence and began expanding and beautifying the city. He expanded the Louvre and constructed Pont Neuf, Place des Vosges, Place Dauphine, and Saint-Louis Hospital.
Louis XIV, the "Sun King", and his minister of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, continued to develop Paris as a royal city. Aiming to make it a "new Rome", the city held over 500,000 inhabitants and 25,000 houses by the mid-17th century. Despite the grandeur, the king actually preferred to rule France from countryside Versailles. The court moved back and forth from Versailles to Pairs during the next several rulers.
Paris was the center of the Enlightenment in the late 18th century. Its salons were the think tanks for the "Age of Reason". The city was elevated to the highest levels of the arts, sciences and philosophy, but not in finance. The French state was practically bankrupt by the Seven Years' War and the French intervention in the American War of Independence. A wall was built around Paris between 1784 and 1791 as a customs barrier for taxation purposes. A poor harvest in 1788 brought widespread famine and hunger across France and food riots in Paris. On July 14th, a mob seized the arsenal at the Invalides and stormed the Bastille. The battle was brief - but bloody - as 87 revolutionaries were killed before the fortress surrendered. As the start of the Revolution, this day is now remembered as Bastille Day.
Despite this victory, Paris continued to experience issues with food supply. Marie Antoinette, told the people had no bread, is said to have famously stated "Let them eat cake". (This appears to be more legend than fact). Nonetheless, the people attacked Versailles and the royal family was forced to return to Paris where they were kept as prisoners in the Tuileries.
Napoleon admired Paris's progress and prestige and once again named it the capital of his empire. He rebuilt and re-defined the city in the style of Rome. Even after his exile, the city continued to grow and develop. The Industrial Revolution took growth to supersonic speed as rail lines expanded and migrant workers arrived from the countryside. The population reached 900,000 people, making it the second largest city in Europe after London, and the third largest city in the world.
The 1910 Great Flood of Paris happened in January, taking the Seine 20 feet above normal. Streets were covered in water and Parisians were forced to flee to emergency shelters.
During WWI, Paris became the site of refugees. Germans lines came as close as 15 miles from the city. The government was evacuated to Bordeaux in case the city fell to German forces, but the city was saved by a valiant French effort to reinforce their lines. In the "miracle on the Marne", thousands of Parisian taxis were commandeered to carry soldiers to the front lines. The Germans were pushed back to the Oise - 75 miles away from the city.
France was divided by it's political factions in the wake of WWI and just before WWII. This uncertainty affected the country as WWII opened. Nazi forces invaded France on May 10th, 1940 and they reached Paris after just one month. By June 14th, the battle in Paris was over and the city had surrendered to German forces. Much of the city's population fled the city with close to 1.6 million people abandoning Paris between May and June 1940. Occupation was brutal as 30,000 Nazi forces took over the city and marked it with swastikas. In addition, anonymous tips on citizens were welcomed, parades of strength were held, a curfew forcing Parisians to stay home from midnight to 5:30 was require, and a general feeling of terror was established. The Allied victory brought great relief and celebration in the city. On August 25th, 1944, Paris was liberated and Parisians crowded the Champs Elysées.
The city has retained its mantle as the city of romance, the city of light, the city of revolution. It has issues with social tensions between the city and suburbs, cost of education, and unemployment, but the city continues to change and progress with the security of a rich and vibrant history and culture.
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