Why is Paris called ‘The City of Lights’?

For some, Paris is the ‘city of love’, and for others, it is the ‘city of lights’.

Well, when you roam through the corridors of the Louvre museum in Paris, the beautiful sculptors from Greek literature and mythology make you wonder if the Greek hero, ‘Paris’ inspired the name of the city. A little digging into the history will reveal that the city was originally known as ‘Parisius’ after the Parisii tribe in 3rd Century AD. The present Paris, the Mecca of art, culture, and fashion, attracts people from the farthest corners of the globe. This is because Paris stands for different things to different people.

Paris Aerial View – City of Lights

Once you set your foot in Paris, you can feel the whiff of romance in the air. The beautifully lit Eiffel Tower at night always inspires a magical moment between the hearts that are bound by love. Hence, Paris is the city of love. Are you wondering why it has the nickname ‘city of lights’?

The word ‘lights’ has two different connotations. From here, Paris becomes a little more interesting. According to the first connotation, Paris is called the ‘city of lights’ because the entire city is beautifully lit every night. The second connotation refers to the fact that Paris has been the center of philosophy and revolutions in terms of art, education, and science. 

Paris, a city, extravagantly lit

Once you step your foot in Paris, do not forget to take Paris by Night Tour. As your bus cruises through Notre Dame, Louvre Museum, Concorde, and Champs-Elysees, you will be taken aback at how the entire nook and corner of the city is illuminated with lights as if celebrating life. Roughly, 300 historical sites in and around the city are illuminated with lights, the iconic Eiffel Tower being the brightest of all. Illuminated at night with 20,000 bright fluroscent bulbs, this wonder of the World stands tall as the symbol of eternal love. 

If you turn around the pages of France’s history, you will come across the fact that it was Paris that embraced the World’s first electric streetlight in the form of arc lamps in 1878. They were known as Yablochkov candles. By 1881, almost 4000 of these lights replaced gas lanterns to strengthen the state of law and order of the city. Only when you see, you have to believe and, to some extent, accept that Paris can also be referred to as the city of lights. Here ‘lights’ refers to the entire act of being illuminated with lights.

Paris, a city symbolizing knowledge & learning 

Another very interesting connotation of Paris being the ‘city of lights’ revolves around the city and its historical past and its imminent rise as the center of knowledge, emerging new philosophies, and the spirit of scientific discovery. Here the word ‘light’ refers to the light of knowledge. The period from 1715 to 1789 is known as the Age of Enlightenment in France

The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual movement marked by the spirit of questioning age-old traditions and breaking down of the traditional monarchy. Driven by the philosophical ideas of Descartes, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, France as a country shone brilliantly amongst the nations of the World. The ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity that were widely debated during the Age of Enlightenment became the seed for the French Revolution. The writings of Rousseau and John Locke encouraged the intellectuals to challenge the tenets of feudal society and the class divisions. This light of enlightenment engulfed the entire French society, and as a result, the document on the rights of a citizen was formulated. This document firmly laid the basis for individual rights and was adopted by the National Assembly in 1789. 

Apart from the political transformation, education centered in and around Paris underwent a significant transformation. The archaic Latin got replaced by French in secondary schools and colleges. Furthermore, the emphasis shifted from literature-oriented studies to mathematics, geography, and physics. So, the word ‘light’ in the nickname ‘city of lights’ also points towards the collective spirit behind the growth and development of France as a nation and Paris as a city.

Paris - City of Lights
Louvre, Paris

Walking through the city’s streets and a cruise ride on the Seine will make you realize that Paris as a city is magical. While it still holds on to the high ideals from its rich history with great pride, it has also rapidly earned its crown as the fashion capital of the world. The more you explore the ‘city of lights’, the more you will discover that artists from all over the globe find their much-deserved space to showcase their art to a far-reaching audience. This cultural plurality is awe-inspiring. With such an excellent background, no wonder that Paris is the city of lights.