Useful Paris background information

Here are just a few brief facts about events in 19th and 20th century French History that you may read about or hear discussed when you visit Paris or France. You will need to go elsewhere for greater depth.

The Revolution:


The Storming of the Bastille on July 14th 1879 - the start of the French Revolution.

Find out more.

Began in 1789, with the Storming of the Bastille. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were executed in 1793. The Reign of Terror occurred around 1793 – 1795. Religion and the Church were banned; Notre Dame, for example became a “Temple of Reason”. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was published, stating that all people were equal and should have equal rights. A new calendar was introduced, with a ten day week and months named after natural phenomena. France became involved in war with the rest of Europe. She became the first "nation at arms", meaning all able bodied men were conscripted into the army.



Napoleon worked his way up through the ranks of the army. His nickname was "the Little Corporal" (he was not very tall!)
He said that every private carried a Field Marshall's baton in his knapsack.

Find our more about Napoleon.

Napoleon came to power in 1799 and worked his way through a variety of roles to eventually become Emperor of France. He introduced the Code Napoléon (unifying European legal systems) and schooling. He conquered most of Western Europe, placing his family on the vacated thrones. His invasion of Russia, and the subsequent Retreat from Moscow in 1812 marked the beginning of his declining power.

Napoleon was eventually defeated by the British and the Prussians at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was exiled by the allies to the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died a lonely death in 1821.

1848 Revolution:

1848 revolution

1848 is called the year of revolutions as the people in nearly every European country rose up against their rulers.

Find out more about revolutions in France

Caused because French people wanted to decrease the power of the King and have a greater say in the running of the government; fairer working conditions and better wages. It was led by poorly armed students and workers who manned barricades in the streets of Paris. Their slogan was: "Du travail ou du pain; du pain ou du plomb". This meant that if work or bread were not forthcoming the revolutionaries would fight to the death (killed by the lead bullets of the royal armies).There were bloody battles in the streets.

Eventually the King left the country and a Republic was proclaimed, which was, unfortunately, just was as repressive as the King’s regime. 11,000 workers were arrested for treason and 4 thousand were later deported to Algeria. This is the Revolution of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables. “

The Franco-Prussian war: 1870.

Franco_Prussian war During the Franco-Prussian war, colonial troops from North Africa, the Zouaves, were sent into action by the French against the Prussians.

Engineered very cleverly by the Prussians, forcing a totally unprepared France to go to war over who should rule Spain. The Prussians were a great military strength; the French philosopher, Voltaire, a century before had noted that Prussia was: “an army with a country, not a country with an army”. This was the way in which Bismarck united all the German states into one cause, and was then able to create modern Germany.

The French suffered a crushing defeat at Sedan. Emperor Napoleon III suffered the disgrace of being captured and made a prisoner of war. The Prussians then marched upon Paris and beseiged it. Find out more

World War I – 1914 - 1918

Signatories Treat Versailles Many believed that the Treaty of Versailles (1920) deliberately set out to humiliate Germany. Certainly, France wanted revenge.

France intended to revenge itself upon Germany for its treatment during and after the Franco-Prussian war.She spent the years from 1870 onwards in trying to construct alliances and treaties with Russia and Britain. Forts were constructed on the French borders with Germany. After the assassination of the Serbian Archduke in 1914, Germany invaded France through Belgium (the unprotected frontier), and established the Western Front across the north of the country. For four years, France and her allies fought on this front to prevent the German advance.

During this war, France lost millions of soldiers and civilians. The peace treaty was signed at Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors after the war, when Germany handed back Alsace and Lorraine to France.

The Resistance

Jean Moulin Jean Moulin is remembered as an emblem of the French Resistance and an example of bravery.

The Resistance were groups of people who secretly conducted resistance – both violent and non-violent – against the Nazis during World War II. Resistance groups were made up of a great variety of people. Many were members of the Communist party; others were Christians; most were quite ordinary people. Even young children became involved. Reprisals against the Resistance were very severe. In some cases, whole villages were exterminated (eg. Orcival in the Auvergne.) The Loire formed the border between Vichy France and Free France.

The most highly regarded Resistance leader was Jean Moulin who was tortured to death by the Nazis in 1944.


Immigration is as much debated in France as it is here. About 20% of people in France are immigrants. France has always had many immigrants, and originally these came from other European countries. France had many colonies throughout the world but mostly in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. France still has some significant ties with her previous North African colonies in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco (the Maghreb)

Once they had gained their independence after World War II, the citizens of these countries came to France seeking jobs, education and better opportunities. This changed the whole nature of immigration. Many of these immigrants are Moslem. The wearing of the veil by young Moslem women is a big issue in schools, where any outward religious symbols are banned. The wearing of the Burquah has been banned in public. Islam is the second religion of France.

Source: http://durotrigan.blogspot.com.au


On this page:


Notre Dame de Paris. Did you know it was nearly demolished in the 1800's? Victor Hugo's book, "Notre Dame de Paris" or as we know it, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" started a campaign to save the cathedral. Click here to find out more.


This is the flag of Paris.




Sacré Coeur is not really that old. Click here to find out about it.



Eiffel Tower

The Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower when it was first constructed. They wanted to pull it down. Click here to find out more


Contact the Webmaster
Back to top