Paris: Home of the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a movement that promoted values of reason, evidence-based knowledge, free inquiry, individual liberty, humanism, limited government, and the separation of church and state.

18th century Paris served as a place for intellectual discourse where philosophes birthed the Age of Enlightenment. Paris earned the nickname "the City of Light."


Centers of Progress: Paris (Enlightenment)

Paris is France's capital. With over two million residents, it is the most populous city today.

Since the 17th century, Paris continues to serve as a significant centre of diplomacy, commerce, high fashion, cuisine, science, and the arts. It is known as a top tourist destination, famed for its architectural landmarks, museums, restaurants, and atmosphere. Paris is also a popular destination for weddings and honeymoons.


  • Paris began as a small settlement on the Seine river banks. Paris gets its name from the Parisii, an Iron Age Celtic tribe, who fortified the area around 225BCE.
  • In 52 BCE, the Romans conquered the site and named it March of the Parisii.
  • By the 5th century CE, the Franks took control over Paris and made it their capital.
  • In 843 CE, the kingdom of Francia split. East Francia became the predecessor state to Germany while West Francia became the early version of the Kingdom of France.


In the 18th century, intellectual discourse moved from universities to coffeehouses and salons where debate of politics and philosophy took place.

Here, nobles and other wealthy financiers intermingled with artists, writers, and philosophers seeking patronage and opportunities to discuss their work. Controversial philosophers who were denied the intellectual freedom to explore their ideas could gather here and develop their critiques of existing norms and institutions.


During the 1760s, the first modern restaurants emerged in France. In 1782, Antoine Beauvilliers (1754–1817), the pastry chef to the future Louis XVIII, opened the first fine-dining establishment in Paris.

French cuisine remains a significant cultural achievement.


Funding and feedback by salon patrons encouraged philosophers to put their ideas on paper.

  • In 1748, Montesquieu published Spirit of the Laws, which advocated a separation of governmental powers.
  • In 1751, Diderot helped create the Encyclopédie, among the first modern, general-purpose encyclopedias.
  • In 1759, Voltaire published Candide, a sarcastic novella banned for its criticisms of religious and political institutions.
  • In 1762, Rousseau published The Social Contract, a censored work which argued that laws should reflect the "will of the people" and that monarchs have no "divine right" to rule.



  • Paris became among the first cities to install gas street lighting in the 19th century.
  • During the19th century artistic achievements reached new highs with marvels such as the Eiffel Tower, impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces.
  • Influential painters include Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Henri Rousseau, and Vincent Van Gogh.
  • Well-known writers of that era include Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Alexandre Dumas.


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