Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
BABYLON ON THE SEINE

No OTHER of today's cosmopolitan cities has maintained its rank for as long a time as Paris. And even though Paris, unlike Babylon and Rome, never was the largest city on earth, it is one of the five or six cities that have shaped the world. Even in our day, its attractiveness does not seem to have weakened; people from the provinces and tourists from every corner of the world still stream into the great metropolis, and its charm triumphs over the decrepitude of many of its magnificent buildings which time has covered with a darkgrey patina.

There is hardly anything more gloomy on earth than the boxlike Cyclopean structure of the Louvre on a November day, and nothing more unattractive than some of the residential sections in the eastern part of the city or in some of the suburbs. There is, on the other hand, nothing more enchanting than a stroll along the Seine in spring, and scarcely anything more impressive than the Champs Élysées. And if for some reason someone should really not like Paris, he still must be impressed by the acclaim of those who love it; and if anyone should see Paris merely as a city grey with age, he most probably failed to start the day with an apéritif or a glass of claret.

The ancient Gallic town of Lutetia on that small island in the Seine where, since the twelfth century, the Cathedral of Notre Dame has been reaching toward the sky, did not belong among the important cities of France until far into the Middle Ages. Lyons was the great Roman city in Gaul; Toulouse, with more than 100,000 inhabitants, was the capital of the empire of the Visigoths in the fifth century; Laon was the last residence of the Carolingians; Orléans was the centre of the West Frankish empire during the tenth and eleventh centuries; and Avignon was the seat of the popes during the fourteenth century.

In the third century the Roman city of Paris was set upon by the Germanic tribes, who plundered almost all the Gallic cities. Nevertheless, the future Roman Emperor Julian (the Apostate) chose Paris as his residence when he was "Caesar of Gaul" from 355 to 360 -- probably because of its convenient location on the Seine, which at that time was already being used for shipping. Moreover,

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