So you’ve visited a handful of times and think you’ve heard all there is to know about the City of Love? Well, we’ll wager you haven’t heard some of these interesting facts about Paris before.
Interesting Facts About Paris
1. The Eiffel Tower was deeply unpopular when it was built
It’s now the city’s most famous icon and Instagrammed by millions every year. But it hasn’t always been popular. Built in 1887, the Eiffel Tower was actually a result of a design contest for a monument that would mark the fall of Bastille for the World Fair 1889. Gustave Eiffel, who had experience building railroad bridges, won the contest. Though the judges loved the design for its industrial look, refined Parisians loathed it. Some of the most prominent intellectuals, writers and artists of the day campaigned against it and many hoped it would be torn down after the fair. Over 125 years later, it’s still standing.
2. There are two natural islands in Paris
The French capital is landlocked, but it’s still possible to island-hop (sort of). The Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis are two natural islands floating in the River Seine, connected to the rest of Paris by bridge. The Île de la Cité is also home to a collection of Paris’ most famous landmarks, including Notre-Dame Cathedral. The much smaller Île Saint-Louis only stretches across a few streets, though it is home to the city’s most iconic ice cream shop, Berthillon.
Paris also has one artificial island, L’île aux Cygnes. Located between the 15th and 16th districts, it originally served as a dyke to allow for the transportation of goods.
3. Paris has its own Statue of Liberty
If you’ve read this article about the Statue of Liberty, you’ll already know that France gifted New York its most famous monument in 1866. But did you know that the United States returned the gesture a few years later? The quarter-scale replica now sits on the L’île aux Cygnes. Paris also has a full-size replica of the Flame of Liberty, which has since become a shrine to Princess Diana.
4. There’s a cafe in Paris that is older than the United States
Le Procope opened in 1686 and is the capital city’s oldest restaurant. It was built close to a century before the founding of the United States in 1776.
Paris isn’t short on centuries-old restaurants either. Au Chien Qui Fume was founded in 1740 and the Michelin-starred Le Grand Vefour was founded in 1784.
5. It gets pretty freaky underground
Underneath the city of Paris is a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels housing over six million bodies. When cemeteries began to overfill in the late 18th century, people would drop them into quarries and workers would distribute the bones in the network of underground tunnels. You can explore part of the tunnels at the Paris Catacombs, a mile-long tunnel 65 ft (20 metres) below ground level. There’s also a small, secretive community who know how to access the network of tunnels and have even set up cinemas, bars and a restaurant underground, unbeknownst to the authorities.
6. It would take you eight months to see everything in the Louvre
The Louvre is the largest museum in the world. Around 10 million people visit every year and on any day there might be as many as 15,000 visitors. Don’t try to cover it all. If you decided to spend 30 seconds on each piece of art and could forgo any sleeping or breaks, it would take 100 consecutive days to see everything. If you throw in some sleeping time, it would take 200 days in total to see the 35,000 works of art.
7. Paris is surrounded by an abandoned railway line
La Petite Ceinture (little belt) is a 20-mile stretch of railway that runs through the heart of Paris. By the mid-19th century, Paris already had five privately-owned railway stations inside the city walls. However, railway owners refused to connect the railways because it would inevitably result in profit loss. So if you wanted to take a connecting train, you needed to walk between the stations. The military, however, had different ideas. After Napoleon’s 1851 coup, he set about building a railway around the city walls. The railway line became popular and by 1867, the line even extended to the slaughterhouse district. Passenger numbers declined with the opening of the Metro and trains ceased operating in 1933. Today the abandoned railway is dotted with urban gardens, such as Les Jardins de Ruisseau.