When I returned home to the US this Christmas, I got a lot of questions about what happened in Paris, and how people are coping. Since the tragic events in Paris on November 13, I've visited the city twice. To be quite honest, things seem to have really gone back to normal. There is still heightened security in places, but in the end people needed to resume their daily lives.
So in the spirit of honoring this great city, I'd like to talk in this post about the very important place that Paris holds in France. Paris is an unusual city. Not only because of its rich history, art, and beauty, but because Paris is the capital of everything in France. Unlike neighboring countries like Germany and Italy where different cities tend to have distinct functions, France is entirely and completely Paris-centric. Paris is the country's financial, cultural, educational, and political center. This is also a clear sign of France's extreme centralization. Below are some of the defining features of Paris:
|A side view of the Notre Dame Cathedral|
1. Size: Paris is much larger than any city in France, by a long shot.
First, let's take a look at population. The population of Paris (not counting surrounding suburbs) is about 2 million people. The next biggest city in France, Marseille, has about 800,000 people. So Paris is the largest city in France by far. This is different once again from Germany and Italy, which have a more even distribution of large cities (Berlin and Hamburg in Germany, at 3 and 1 million people respectively, and Rome, Naples, Milan, and Turin all have over 1 million people).
As France's largest city, the Paris region also contains a large part of the country's general population. Paris and its surrounding region has about 6 million people. When you compare this to France’s general population of about 65 million people, this means that 1 out of every 6 French people lives in Paris. That’s a pretty big portion of the population.
2. Transportation: The high speed train lines (TGV) in France are all linked to Paris. It’s fairly fast and easy to go from Paris to any major city in France. Likewise, travelling anywhere on a north/south axis is fairly simple and fast. But travelling from a city in the east to a city in the west is a different story…and you often have to take the train up to Paris first before going anywhere else.
3. Education: All the most famous and prestigious schools in France (Henri IV high school, the Sorbonne, Polytechnique) are in or around Paris, no exceptions. The example of famous schools is also interesting when you compare it with the United States where many of our most prestigious universities are found on both the east and west coasts, and not necessarily near big cities.
4. Politics: Paris is also the political capital of France. It's where the President resides and works, and also the rest of the French government functions. This has been the case for centuries, since Clovis the first Christian king of France established this site as a capital city in 508 AD.
|view of the Seine river|
5. Lifestyle: Many French people have lived in Paris at some point in their lives. They don't necessarily stay there for life, but many will have made the obligatory passage through the city, often for school or for work. Paris has a lower unemployment level than in the rest of the country, so it's no wonder that many people move there to find jobs. It also represents 25% of the entire country's workforce.  On the flip side of this is the high cost of living and explosion of real estate prices, which make it difficult to find and rent/buy an apartment. A 2008 study showed that life in Paris costs roughly 13% more than living outside of the city, and the cost of food is 6% more than in other places. For a more personal example, friends who live in Paris have an apartment about the same size in square meters as mine. Their rent is roughly twice the amount I pay per month.
|The Place des Vosges, where the famous writer Victor Hugo (Les Misérables) lived|
6. Culture: Paris is by far the cultural capital of France. This extends to museums, theater, but also a particular cultural history. The city houses the famous Louvre, Musée D'orsay and Centre Pompidou art museums, unequaled in France and in most other countries in the world. The musée du Louvre is the most visited and the largest art museum in the world. The city has also been home to many famous artists and writers, and still maintains a status of a artistic center to this day. There are many interesting cultural sites in other places in France, but in no other city is there a parallel concentration of the arts as in Paris.
If you don't know this truly great city, I urge you to visit and discover for yourself how Paris really is the center of the French universe.