| Paris is the city of
a thousand clichés, the 'City of Lights'
and Hemmingway’s much quoted 'Moveable Feast'
amongst them, but for once it is also a city that justifies all
the hype. The French capital is one of the world’s truly great
cities, a metropolis that lavishly satisfies the desires of visitors
and business people alike and manages to retain a standard of living
that makes becoming a Parisian so alluring.
Paris dramatically wears its history on its sleeve and today it
is still centred around the Ile de la Cité,
where over two thousand years ago Celtic tribes first eked out a
living. The Romans were later drawn to this strategic location in
the middle of the Seine, a natural crossroads between
Germany and Spain, and took control in 52BC. Despite English rule
between 1420 and 1436, a series of French kings brought about the
centralisation of France, with Paris at its cultural, political
and economic centre.
Despite its large size and population almost everything worth seeing
is contained within the ring road, the Boulevard Périphérique.
The compact centre is easily navigable on foot, with the efficient
and comprehensive Métro system always on hand to ease tired
limbs. The lifeblood River Seine splits Paris neatly
in two and the useful arrondissements system neatly carves the city
into manageable chunks.
The history of Paris can be uncovered throughout its distinctive
districts. Hilly Montmartre, with its village atmosphere,
was where the Paris Commune began in 1871, the Marais
evokes medieval Paris, its winding streets a sharp contrast to the
wide, orderly Haussmann boulevards, envisaged by
Napoleon III to keep the mobs at bay. These grand 19th-century avenues
still dominate the city, interspersed with modern flourishes. The
grands travaux (large projects) of Président Mitterrand added
the Grande Arche de la Défense, the ultra-modern Opéra
de la Bastille, the impressive Institut du Monde
Arabe, and plonked a glass pyramid in the central courtyard
of the Louvre.
The varied populations within Paris define the city’s atmosphere
just as much as its landmarks. The French establishment resides
comfortably in the smart 16th arrondissement, while African and
Eastern European immigrants live less lavishly in areas such as
up-and-coming areas Belleville and the Goutte
d’Or. The Jewish quarters include the shabby Sentier
and trendy Marais district, the latter is also
Paris’ gay centre. Emerging areas include Bercy,
where new flats, bars and restaurants are drawing a youthful and
moneyed crowd east.
Paris is a city with a varied climate that conjures up its own seasonal
delights. In the summer, when the mercury rises, the locals flock
to the new Paris Plage, where a riverside expressway
is converted for a month between July and August into an oasis of
swimming pools, sand and deckchairs. The best time to visit is,
of course, during the famous Paris Spring between April and June,
when the days are sunny but not too hot. The autumn and winter months
are another good time to come when there are fewer crowds and snow
is a rarity, but there really is no bad time to visit one of the
world’s truly great cities.