How One Architect And A Little Hollywood Magic Turned Paris Into The City Of Love

If you’ve ever been to Paris, you probably loved it. If you’ve never been, you’re probably dying to go.

By Meghan Dillon3 min read
emily in paris How Paris Became The City Of Love netflix

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world due to its stunning history, art, architecture, food, and music. A huge part of its modern popularity comes from the romanticizing of Paris as the City of Love. (Who hasn’t seen a picture of a couple getting engaged under the Eiffel Tower?) 

Paris Gets a Makeover

Like London and Rome, Paris has always had a reputation as a beautiful city and as a cultural seat of Europe. One can easily wonder why London and Rome aren’t on the same level as Paris when it comes to cultural connotations, and a lot of that can be attributed to one man, Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann (1809-1891).

Though some of the city's reputation can be attributed to the legalization of prostitution in the 19th century, what we think of now as the most romantic city in the world is mainly due to Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in the mid-19th century. Paris before Haussmann was different from the Paris we know today. Think of how Paris is portrayed in The Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables – it’s not very pretty. The streets are filthy and full of disease (think of when Jean Valjean carried Marius through the sewers to save his life near the end of Les Miserables), and Napolean III took note of this problem and appointed Haussmann to rebuild Paris. 

From 1850 to 1870, Haussmann demolished the medieval neighborhoods of Paris to build the beautiful Parisian streets filled with chic restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, and boutiques that we know today. Other than re-designing streets, his work also included creating city parks, a modern sewage system, and around 34,000 new buildings (mainly in the Neoclassical and Romantic styles)

Haussmann was dismissed from his position in 1870, but his renovations continued until 1927. This helped create the modern Parisian aesthetic. Think about it, the only thing we love more than beautiful places is falling in love in beautiful places. We often romanticize historical love stories for aesthetic reasons, one of them being that most of us would rather meet a guy wearing a beautiful ball gown at Versailles than wearing jeans in a dingy bar.

Beauty and Romance Go Together

A cultural fascination with romantic love is woven throughout Parisian culture, for anything Parisian (or French) like the Eiffel Tower, berets, croissants, the Louvre, the River Seine, and even the French language are considered to be romantic. This is because Paris is beautiful, and beauty uplifts us and stirs us to higher feelings, just like love does. Beauty and love go hand in hand.

Paris is famous for its beautiful and awe-inspiring architecture, beyond the Eiffel Tower. There’s the Arc de Triomphe war memorial, Notre Dame, the Palace of Versailles, the Luxembourg Palace, and the Tuileries Garden for starters. 

Even just walking down the city streets of Paris immerses you in beauty. Corner cafes, patisseries, and bread carts all add charm and draw you into a slower pace of life where you can fully enjoy life’s simple pleasures and the company of the one you’re with.

Pop-Culture Portrays Paris as the Place To Fall in Love

But more than anything, movies and tv shows have fortified and perpetuated the idea that Paris is for lovers. This is due to a pop-culture trope, let's call it the Parisian Lover Fantasy, where the protagonist falls in love in Paris. One of the earliest (and most famous) examples of this comes from the 1942 film Casablanca, a story of starstruck lovers who fall in love in Paris before the Nazi invasion of France tears them apart. The film is beloved for many reasons, but the line, “We’ll always have Paris,” is the perfect example of the Parisian Lover Fantasy.

It’s common for American audiences to romanticize Paris through film. We’re seeing this right now with Netflix’s Emily in Paris, which is literally about the main character Emily falling in love in Paris. Some other, more famous examples include Funny Face, An American in Paris, Moulin Rouge, Amelie, and Midnight in Paris, and it’s hard to watch these movies without falling in love with Paris itself. Paris often becomes a character on its own without even trying, as the beautiful scenery and landmarks are enough to make the city seem like a romantic fantasyland.

Closing Thoughts

From pop-culture’s love affair with the city to the beautiful art and architecture, Paris has earned its reputation as the City of Love. Though some may claim that the city is over-hyped, the history of the city and its impact on pop-culture will forever make it one of the most beautiful and iconic cities in the world.

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