July 8, 1951: Paris celebrates its 2,000th birthday
It’s not just any European capital city that can claim an origin with “B.C.” at the end of the date. So when Paris celebrated its 2,000th birthday July 8, 1951, it was a big deal. But it was not a foregone conclusion that France or any part of it would still be around in the early 1950s. World War II German occupation of Paris began in 1940 and only ended in 1944. The French were still rationing bread until February 1948, and sugar and coffee a year after that. The population of Paris had reached its pre-war, 1936 level by 1946, however, and swelled to 2.8 million-plus by 1954.
Paris began as a fishing town
It might seem like Paris wouldn’t be its glamorous self without such stunning historical sites as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. But both of those are relative newcomers to the Parisian scene, dating to 1806 and 1887, respectively. Back in 49 A.D., no one would have seen Paris as all that special, much less as an intellectual epicenter or the apex of a romantic getaway for American newlyweds. In those times, the Gauls, a hunting-fishing people, liked to hang out in the Paris Basin and mount battles against other warrior tribes. Julius Caesar put an end to all this when the Roman army came a conquerin’ around 50 B.C. They called latter-day City of Lights “Lutetia,” and the name stuck until the Franks, a Germanic outfit, made their move in the 4th century.
The Franks’ King Clovis went back to the future, giving a nod to the B.C. Gaul tribe of Parisii and renaming Lutetia Paris. That name stuck. The coolest part of the old-school name is that the Parisii tribe, like others of the day, was fond of revelry. They carried on traditions of druidic worship like yule logs and mistletoe. It’s nice to think the original Parisians would have approved of the almost constant festivals and celebrations of Paris’ milestones, from the 2,000th anniversary in 1951 to the 130th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower being celebrated in 2019.