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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  • 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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