Take an Aerial Tour of Medieval Paris

Paris is named after the Parisii, a tribe of Celts who settled on a very strategic island in the middle of the Seine sometime around 250 BC. With a wall and two bridges in and out, the settlement grew and–though conquered by Romans, and threatened by all sorts including Attila the Hun–it evolved into the city of romance and revolution.

This fascinating fly-through of Paris circa 1550 AD shows a city in transition. Still very much a medieval town in certain respects, it already has many of the landmarks tourists flock to even now.

It begins just outside the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founded in the 6th Century, and goes down the Seine towards the Palais de la Cité, and under the Pont Saint-Michel. Houses were built along the bridges like this until the 18th and 19th centuries.

There’s time to linger on Notre Dame cathedral, and to note that the famed flèche, the spire that was lost in 2019’s fire, had yet to be built. (There is debate in the comments about whether the spire in the video is historically inaccurate, whether there was any spire at that time, or whether the spire depicted is the correct one.) Another circle of the Palais and past Sainte-Chapelle until a street level diversion into the bustling Right Bank along the Pont aux Meuniers, a bridge that no longer exists (it collapsed in 1596, was rebuilt, and disappeared one final time in a 1621 fire).

The Renaissance was just around the corner, and this glimpse of Paris on the cusp of urbanization is fascinating in its CGI-generated fin de siècle (to borrow a phrase).

The city has always been evolving–for those interested, there is a longer 3-D tour of Paris through its history. While this Middle Ages excursion contains some familiar architecture, the Roman years (when Paris was known as Lutetia) feature many large structures that simply do not exist any more. It is yet another reminder that nothing lasts forever, not even buildings made of the finest stone.

Related Content:

Pristine Footage Lets You Revisit Life in Paris in the 1890s: Watch Footage Shot by the Lumière Brothers

Paris in Beautiful Color Images from 1890: The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Panthéon, and More (1890)

A Virtual Time-Lapse Recreation of the Building of Notre Dame (1160)

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (3)
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  • Alan Jones says:

    The spire on Notre Dame, according to reports after the 2019 fire, was only added in the… 18th or 19th century. Is that so?

  • patrick Smolski says:

    the Parisii actually are not Celts they came from Crete and chose this place to create a city because there was a lot of limestones which they used to build houses and temples, they prayed to the Goddess Isis who is still represented in many Parisian landmarks

  • Francine Sicard says:

    The spire was added in the 19th century by the architect Viollet-Leduc who had been in charge of Notre Dame’s restoration.

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