You can learn a lot about a city from its historical maps. In the case of Paris, the sprawling metropolis we know today grew from a narrow stretch of land comprising the "Ile de la Cite" on the Seine River to a thriving global capital, over hundreds of years.
How exactly did that extraordinary expansion happen? We take a look here, in reverse chronological order-- beginning with the present-day.
Paris in the Present Day: The City's 20 Main Districts
This map of present-day Paris shows all 20 arrondissements (districts) of the city, and highly popular attractions such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Père-Lachaise Cemetery.
You can also see Paris's closest suburbs, or "banlieues", winding around the periphery. Parisians refer to the nearest suburbs, which are generally served by the Paris Metro, as la petite couronne (literally, "little crown"). The distant Parisian suburbs are referred to as la grande couronne or "greater crown".
The present-day map reflects how much Paris has grown and evolved over hundreds of years of history, and through the tumults of political and industrial revolutions and population growth. Read on for more details on how it all happened.
Paris in 1843: Narrower Contours
Although it's difficult to see the details on this map of Paris circa 1843, it shows how the French capital was once divided into only 12 districts or arrondissements, rather than 20, prior to a large annexation of surrounding towns in 1860 that resulted in the city's population skyrocketing past the four-million mark.
Present-day areas including the 12th arrondissement, 19th arrondissement and 20th arrondissement were part of the post-1860 expansion of Paris. During this modernizing period, Paris began to take on the guise we're now familiar with, with its sweeping, wide avenues and squares, regal formal parks, and distinctive 18th-century Haussmannian architecture.
Paris on the Eve of the French Revolution
This map shows Paris as it appeared in 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution of the same year. You'll notice that the city was much smaller, and in many ways, Paris was still very much a medieval city during this period.
The narrow streets of the Middle Ages have not yet given way to the broad boulevards and grand squares introduced by Baron Haussmann at the turn of modernity, and most of the buildings were still wood. Blazing fires were still common during this period.
Map of an Expanding Paris: 1589-1643
This map, which itself dates to the early 18th century, shows how Paris developed and expanded between the years 1589 and 1643 under the reign of Henry II and Louis XIII.
The present-day area known as the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in the eastern part of the right bank was included among the additions during this time of population growth and increased prosperity in the city of lights. This was originally a working-class area: one whose narrow streets would facilitate the revolts of Revolutions to come, including the Paris Commune of 1871 in which revolutionaries famously barricaded the streets.
Map of Medieval Paris: Keeping Enemies and Disease Out
This map shows the contours of Paris during the medieval period (probably in the 12th or 13th century) when the city was restricted to a small circle of land near the Seine, and surrounded by a fortified wall. The place housing the present-day Louvre Museum was once part of the fortified wall on the western edge.
Abbeys lay around the exterior near the wall, underlining the central role of the Catholic Church during the period. Much of present-day Paris, including the area known as Montmartre to the north, were rural towns.