14 Facts We Just Learned About Paris That Made Us Say 'Whoa!'

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Vote up the facts about Paris that are new to you.

With its elegant architecture, cozy cafes, and tree-lined avenues, it's no wonder Paris continues to rank as one of the most visited - and most beloved - cities in the world.

But there's more to the story of Paris than moonlit walks along the Seine or the Eiffel Tower's light show. The following Paris facts show a different side of the French capital. Its story is one of disruption and reconciliation, of resistance and clandestine activities, of subterranean discoveries and rigorous cultural pursuits. For example, what is "Paris syndrome," and why does it strike some visitors? Why was the morgue a major attraction in the 19th century? And why were bakers considered essential workers for centuries?

Read on and vote up the things you never knew about Paris that made you say, "Whoa!"

  • A Group Of 'Illegal Restorers' Broke Into The Paris Panthéon To Fix Its Broken Clock
    Photo: Loki0074 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    891 VOTES

    A Group Of 'Illegal Restorers' Broke Into The Paris Panthéon To Fix Its Broken Clock

    Paris is packed with monuments and buildings with historical and cultural significance. Among them: the Panthéon. Though initially constructed to be a church, the Panthéon became a national mausoleum during the French Revolution's secularization of society. Among the national heroes buried in the Panthéon are Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie.

    Parisians feel protective of the Panthéon - and some are extremely protective of it. So after the Panthéon's clock rusted over and broke down in the 1960s, a group of Parisians took matters into their own hands. Beginning in September 2005, they spent a year sneaking into the Panthéon and clandestinely fixing the clock.

    The group - led by clockmaker Jean-Baptiste Viot - went public with their work in 2007.

    891 votes
  • 2
    650 VOTES

    The Opera House That Inspired 'The Phantom of the Opera' Actually Has A 'Lake' Underneath It

    The Palais Garnier is one of the best-known opera houses in the world, thanks to Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera and its many film and stage adaptations. In the story, an Opera Ghost haunts the opera house. It turns out to be a man who lives in a subterranean lair beneath the building - and it has a lake.

    The Palais Garnier actually exists. It opened its doors in 1875 and has hosted the Paris Opera, France's signature opera company. Just as it is portrayed in the story, the Palais Garnier has a body of water beneath the building. It technically isn't a lake, however; it's a cistern. When construction on the building began in 1862, architect Charles Garnier was frustrated that there was so much groundwater on the site. Completely draining it wasn't possible, so Garnier decided to do the next best thing: work with what he had. As scholar David A. Hanser recounted, "Garnier built a huge concrete cistern under the center of the opera to contain it and balance the pressure of the groundwater on the building."

    650 votes
  • 3
    666 VOTES

    Bakers In Paris Were Legally Required To Ensure Their Vacation Time Didn't Overlap So People Would Always Have Access To Bread

    It's a truth universally acknowledged that baguettes are a staple of French life. In fact, the French consume an estimated 10 billion baguettes annually, and the government nominated baguettes to be recognized as a UNESCO cultural symbol.

    In fact, baguettes are so important to the French, Parisian bakers were long barred from taking overlapping summer vacations, lest they leave their neighborhoods with an inadequate supply of bread. The law was on the books in Paris between 1790 and 2015. 

    To be fair, there is historical precedent for low bread supplies causing significant disruption. The Parisian law was a revolutionary measure in response to shortages of bread and food. In 1788 and 1789, for example, Parisians rioted over the increasing price of bread.

    666 votes
  • 4
    515 VOTES

    Women Were Only Legally Allowed To Wear Pants In Paris As Of 2013

    The association between France and high fashion is centuries old, stretching all the way back to King Louis XIV. According to historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, France wasn't much of a producer of luxury goods when Louis inherited the throne in 1643:

    Louis XIV set out to change that, and, over the course of his long reign, he succeeded brilliantly. Luxury was Louis's New Deal: The furniture, textile, clothing, and jewelry industries he established not only provided jobs for his subjects, but made France the world's leader in taste and technology. His shrewd finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, famously said that "fashions were to France what the mines of Peru were to Spain" - in other words, the source of an extremely lucrative domestic and export commodity. Louis's reign saw about one-third of Parisian wage earners gain employment in the clothing and textile trades; Colbert organized these workers into highly specialized and strictly regulated professional guilds, ensuring quality control and helping them compete against foreign imports while effectively preventing them from competing with each other.

    As France's capital city, Paris has become the capital of French fashion. By the early 20th century, Parisian fashion houses helped develop the concept of "haute couture" and became the center of the fashion world. 

    People in France take their clothing very seriously. In fact, some laws govern what people can and can't wear. For example, France's ban on burqas and niqabs has provoked widespread condemnation from human rights organizations.

    Paris has historically banned women from wearing other garments, too. During the Revolutionary era, Parisian authorities clamped down on what they perceived was an unnatural gender revolution of women opting to wear pants. In 1800, they decreed women would have to gain official permission to put on trousers. The law technically remained in place for over two centuries; it wasn't formally repealed until 2013.

    515 votes
  • Paris Was The First European Capital To Have A Municipal Council Leader Of African Descent
    Photo: Assemblée Nationale France / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    416 VOTES

    Paris Was The First European Capital To Have A Municipal Council Leader Of African Descent

    Severiano de Heredia was born in Cuba, immigrated to France, and became one of Paris's leading civic voices - and he did all of this in an era that classified him as a "mulatto born free." 

    Born in 1836 to a wealthy family, Heredia first came to Paris when he was 10. He entered the political arena in 1870, espousing beliefs like universal education. 

    It's important to note that Heredia wasn't officially the mayor of Paris. Instead, the mayoral office was abolished in 1871 and replaced with a municipal council. Heredia became president of the council in 1879; the position was essentially the mayorship, though without the title. Heredia also served in national politics and gained a cabinet position.

    Heredia's story also reveals the racism that was indisputably part of French society, since journalists anointed him the "chocolate minister." 

    416 votes
  • 6
    607 VOTES

    Paris Is Not The World's Biggest French-Speaking City

    Paris is not only the capital of France; it's also the biggest city in the country. With a little over 11 million people in Paris's metropolitan area, it towers over the second-most populated area: Lyon, which can only claim a metropolitan population of around 2 million.

    But even though Paris reigns supreme in France, it isn't the largest French-speaking city in the world. In fact, it's not even close. The most populated Francophone city is actually Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. With nearly 16 million people, Kinshasa has more French speakers than Paris and Lyon combined.

    French truly is a global language. After Kinshasa and Paris, some of the other biggest Francophone cities include Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Montréal in Canada, and Port-au-Prince in Haiti.  

    607 votes