A 3D Animated History of Paris: Take a Visual Journey from Ancient Times to 1900

“And this too,” mus­es Mar­low as he floats down the Thames in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Dark­ness, “has been one of the dark places on earth.” Whole the­ses have been writ­ten on the mean­ing of this state­ment. We can sim­ply take it to mean that before Lon­don was Lon­don, it was just anoth­er obscure, hum­ble town of ordi­nary farm­ers and arti­sans. That is, before the Romans came. So too Paris.

One of the world’s most famous cities got its start as a clus­ter of hum­ble huts, walled com­pounds, and low, wood­en build­ings with thatched roofs and fenced-in pastures—the set­tle­ment of a Celtic tribe known as the Parisii, who began inhab­it­ing the region some­time in the 3rd cen­tu­ry, BCE. In the first cen­tu­ry, the Romans con­quered and set­tled what would become the Left Bank, and began to build an impres­sive, pros­per­ous city with a forum, tem­ples, bath­hous­es, and the­aters.

The Roman town was first called Lute­tia (or Luti­cia Pari­sio­rum) and the cen­tral forum, in French, the Forum de Lutèce. Chris­tian­i­ty came in the 3rd cen­tu­ry, sup­pos­ed­ly by way of Saint Denis, whom the Romans behead­ed on the hill lat­er known as Mons Mar­tyrum (“Hill of the Martyrs”)—later still, Mont­martre. Then came the Franks in the 5th cen­tu­ry, estab­lish­ing the Merovin­gian dynasty under Clo­vis in 508 and bring­ing with them Frank­ish speech, and lat­er the Fran­cien dialect of Île-de-France.

The rest—in broad out­line or fine detail—you may know, but if not, like all city’s his­to­ries, it is worth get­ting acquaint­ed. As you do, watch the video above from Das­sault Sys­temes’ Paris 3D, an “inter­ac­tive jour­ney through time” that strips away hun­dreds of years of his­to­ry to reveal vir­tu­al mod­els of the city dur­ing the peri­ods above and through the Mid­dle Ages, French Rev­o­lu­tion, and the 1889 World’s Fair, presided over by the just-built Eif­fel Tow­er.

The project “required the work of over 40 peo­ple, includ­ing numer­ous experts about Paris’s his­to­ry, for more than two years.” By 2013, it cov­ered the city’s “18,000 list­ed mon­u­ments” with a web­site, free iPad app, and aug­ment­ed real­i­ty book. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fea­tures of its web appli­ca­tion seem to have been dis­abled and its app seems unavail­able, at least in the U.S. Still—like the vir­tu­al 3d videos of Rome we’ve fea­tured recent­ly—the pro­mo video above offers some impres­sive, beau­ti­ful­ly-ren­dered recon­struc­tions of the city one-thou­sand, fif­teen hun­dred, and over two thou­sand years ago.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take Ani­mat­ed Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Tours of Ancient Rome at Its Archi­tec­tur­al Peak (Cir­ca 320 AD)

Take a 3D Vir­tu­al Tour of the Sis­tine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca and Oth­er Art-Adorned Vat­i­can Spaces

Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion Lets You Fly Through 17th Cen­tu­ry Lon­don

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • Luisa Fijman says:

    Thank you for offer­ing this kind of pro­gram to those of us that are always thirsty for knowl­edge and new adven­tures. This is so excit­ing and stimulating!!!!!!I have no issues being locked up at home. Look at all the beau­ty I have been miss­ing. Keep it up! Luisa

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