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Why We Call Paris the City of Love

Taking a stroll along these cobblestone streets and listening to the music wafting in the air, it’s easy to understand that Paris is the ultimate destination for lovers. Here, they can drift along in blissful connection, discussing future plans at a cafe, sharing delicious meals, taking in beautiful sights, and ending the day by sipping wine together near the Seine.

Yes, under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, many a couple has said those power three words — I love you.

couple running to the eiffel tower to say i love you

But how did Paris become so associated with romance?

And why do we call Paris the city of love?

Let’s examine Paris's history as a backdrop to romance, a story with more than one surprise.

Fragonard love scenes of Versailles
Fragonard love scenes of Versailles

How did Paris become the City of Love?

Whatever we think of the city today, it’s essential to keep in mind that there was almost always a time before it had that reputation. After all, there has been some kind of human settlement here for thousands of years. And the city has undergone many transformations in that time.

The Rise of Paris

By the Middle Ages, Paris was a significant capital city and center of political power. Figures like Charlemagne struggled to reassert the kind of authority across Europe that ancient Rome once had, but it was clear that if someone wanted to take on such a project, France would be the best place to try.

Medieval illustration of the Holy Spirit shining on Paris
Medieval illustration of the Holy Spirit

Paris's central location made it the city where big political decisions were made, massive economic operations had their headquarters, and major religious events took place. For that reason, the city grew during these centuries, but it was quite different from the Paris we know today.

The wealth that came with its massive profile on the continent meant that a lot of art and architecture was commissioned here. From Notre Dame to Sainte-Chapelle, marvels were appearing along these streets all the time.

Visitor marvelling at the Sainte Chapelle stained glass
Visitor marvelling at the Sainte Chapelle stained glass

For that reason, once the Renaissance began to sweep across the continent, Paris was well suited to capitalize on this resurgence in creative and scientific energy.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard - The Swing
Jean-Honoré Fragonard - The Swing

But this eventually slowed down. By the time of the French Revolution, the monarchy had slowly drained energy and resources away from improving the city. And the political back-and-forth that came in the fallout of the Revolution meant that, by the middle of the 19th century, Paris was well behind the times.

A New Paris Begins

During the Second Empire period under Luis Bonaparte III, Georges-Eugène Haussmann led a legendary public works effort that spanned decades and even survived its first benefactor’s downfall.

Floor Scrapers - Gustave Caillebotte - Musée d'Orsay Collection
Floor Scrapers - Gustave Caillebotte -1875- Musée d'Orsay Collection

Haussman’s renovations turned Paris into a modern city — one with wide avenues, plenty of charming parks, and delightful architecture.

picture of facade of Opera Garnier
Opera Garnier facade

At the end of the 19th century, these improvements were bolstered further by major works undertaken to impress a global audience for multiple World’s Fairs. One such work — the Eiffel Tower.

couple in front of Eiffel Tower

Throughout these same decades, the Parisian art scene was the epicenter of the most momentous change in Western art. Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism rocked the world, introducing new approaches and ideals that radically redefined what it meant to be an artist. The result? While Paris had long been a harbor for creatives, artists and poets flocked to the city in even greater numbers.

By the early 20th century, Paris seemed to have it all: a long artistic and architectural tradition that rivaled even Rome, the conveniences and splendor of a fully modern city, the wonder of a lingering Medieval past, the natural beauty of the Seine, a sparkling literary and intellectual scene, and landmarks that stand out in the imagination.

Oh, and one more thing. It was one of the first cities to have gas lighting throughout, creating an irresistible ambiance in the evening hours. That’s why it also goes by the name City of Lights.

Camille Pissaro - Boulevard Montmatre by Night Time
Camille Pissaro - Boulevard Montmatre by Night Time

Romanticism in Paris

In the 19th century, Romanticism swept through a Europe yearning to taste the heights of passion and free themselves from the cold strictures of pure rationality. The movement might have reached its heights in Paris.

The novelists and poets of this era include such luminaries as Victor Hugo, Lamartine, François-René de Chateaubriand, and Madame de Staël.

In that time bohemian artists met in the district of New Athens, known as the cradle of Romanticism, in the heart of the 9th arrondissement. Today, there is even the Museum of Romantic Life that tells this tale.

In Paris, the Romantics found a city brimming with inspiring locales like the Tuileries gardens, the Grands Boulevards, and the banks of the Seine.

Later, in the 20th century, American and British soldiers visited Paris during the war and found its spirit had a reinvigorating vitality and passion running through its streets. Many of them went on to write about this profoundly affecting experience, as we’ll see below.


Paris in Romance Movies and Other Media

Cinema played a major role in Paris becoming so deeply tied into the idea of romance. Now, images could be sent around the world with lovers embracing with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Amelie Poulain Paris

That motif of romance in Paris became a trope that still dazzles audiences today.

These include musicals like An American in Paris (1951) and Moulin Rouge! (2001), and it features arthouse classics like Amélie (2001) and Paris, je t'aime (2006).

Like cinema, music and literature have employed the symbol of Paris — the perfect backdrop for love stories.

In popular music, everyone from Jay-Z to Cole Porter to Édith Piaf has used Paris as a place where dreams come true and where love is found. Literature is no different. Books like Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast cemented Paris in people’s minds as not only a place for romances but also a romantic place to be.

The Great Love Stories of Paris

Far from being only the domain of fiction, Paris has seen its fair share of real-life romances for the ages.

Héloïse and Abelard

Héloïse and Abelard tomb in Pere Lachaise
Héloïse and Abelard tomb in Pere Lachaise

These two were intellectual giants of the Middle Ages. Héloïse was an abbess and philosopher, while Abelard was a logician and theologian.

Their love affair survives in a series of letters that show how much they delighted in each other's thoughts. Since the 12th century, their story has echoed through the ages, even finding a counterpart in the 20th century (as we will see).

Héloïse and Abelard
Héloïse & Abelard

Due to the roles of Héloïse and Abelard, their love was forbidden. And so, their romance burned in private passion. If anything, this dimension adds to the power of their story. Their letters reveal that, though they were unable to embrace their love openly, their affection had the power to transcend all boundaries.

Lucile and Camille Desmoulins

Lucile and Camille Desmoulins
Lucile and Camille Desmoulins and their baby Horace

They found each other in the tumult of the French Revolution. It was a time of major historic changes, sweeping idealism, and chaos. Though initially a supporter, Camille was arrested and set to be executed in the Reign of Terror. His wife met the same fate eight days later — a tragic ending to a romance for the ages.

It is said that Camille learned of his wife’s arrest (which would almost certainly lead to a conviction and death sentence) while he himself was on the way to the guillotine. This drove him beyond the brink as he struggled to break free and get to his wife. The horror of the scene echoes throughout history.

Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin

These two sculptors were alive at one of Paris’s most storied artistic golden ages. Rodin hired Claudel to be an assistant in his workshop. During their collaboration, they fell in love—but Rodin was already married. They influenced each other greatly, but the stress of their love affair contributed to Claudel’s madness later in life.

Camille Claudel
Camille Claudel in her atelier

Their relationship began with Rodin as the master and Claudel as the up-and-comer. Then, against all good sense, they became lovers. But Claudel continued to developas an artist, eventually competing with Rodin himself. It is a fascinating tale that braids together the individuality of great artists and the irresistible forces of Eros.

The Mature Age Camille Claudel Rodin
The Mature Age Camille Claudel Rodin

Marguerite and Aristide Boucicaut

From the worlds of art and letters, we move to business. This couple is the powerhouse behind the first department store in the world, Au Bon Marché. In a partnership marked by tremendous mutual respect, they navigated the world of commerce together to create a massive commercial enterprise.

Reading this, it might be easy to think they had a stuffy, bourgeois marriage. But the love affair had to begin in secret, as Aristide’s parents were against their union. They lived together and had a child in secret, getting married 12 years into their relationship.

Pierre and Marie Curie

These two scientists understood each other in a way no one else could. Their work together revolutionized science in the early 20th century, and they even shared a Nobel Prize in Physics for their famous work in radiation — a force in the universe almost as powerful as the love they had for each other.

Both as individuals and as a couple, they made massive contributions to the sciences. And their love launched the Curie family legacy in the sciences, which has earned five Nobel Prizes to date. This includes notable achievements by their daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre - 1955
Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre - 1955

These two juggernauts of the academy, in many ways, mirror the love affair of Héloïse and Abelard. Their love affair unfolded in the intense intellectual scene of the Parisian cafés. De Beauvoir went on to write one of the most important masterpieces in femJean Marais and Jean Cocteauinist theory, The Second Sex, while Sartre helped to pioneer core concepts in existentialism.

The two led highly unconventional lives, which included the two never marrying despite being life partners. This commitment to living out their ideals and choose how to live life for themselves has become influential among lovers ever since who are looking to express their love authentically — whatever that means for them.

Jean Marais and Jean Cocteau

Jean Marais (Left) and Jean Cocteau (Right)
Jean Marais (Left) and Jean Cocteau (Right)

Paris has given birth to great theater and cinema, so it is no surprise that two giants from the stage show up as one of the great romances in the city’s history. Their deep bond survives in their work, remarkable for its self-embrace of homosexuality during a repressive age. Through it all, they were openly in love — a testament to their profound connection.

The film at the center of this is Orpheus (1950), written and directed by Jean Cocteau and starring Jean Marais. This masterpiece of world cinema is widely recognized as one of the greatest portrayals of the artist on celluloid. And it forever unites these two on the silver screen.

A City Synonymous with Love

When we look at its history, we see how the Paris we know today grew and flowered out of the Medieval Era to become a modern city with a significant past, one spotted with landmarks to be swooned over.

To visit Paris in 2024, one can watch the city's lights shining in the river at night arm-in-arm with that special someone or step into a cafe on a side street to discover a cozy little lover’s getaway, It is a rare city that can be mysterious, inviting, and alluring.

It is no wonder, then, that lovers want to come here more than anywhere else. And that’s why, more than any other reason, we know Paris as the City of Love.

Flore and Flora in Carnavalet Museum in le Marais
Flore and Flora

Want to get the most out of your next trip to the City of Love? Reach out to Flore by email! 

Flore will schedule a tour that matches your exact interests.

Of course, we can tailor everything to be the perfect experience for couples.


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