Paris (city), city in north central France, capital and largest city of the country, on the River Seine, some 370 km (230 mi) from its Atlantic Ocean outlet at Le Havre. Paris is situated in a low-lying basin; relief within the city is generally slight, although the elevation gradually increases from the river to the low hills that ring the city's edge. The highest natural feature within the city proper is the Butte de Montmartre, at 129 m (423 ft) above sea level. The Paris metropolitan area contains nearly 20 per cent of the nation's inhabitants and dominates the economic, cultural, and political life of France to a profound degree. The centralizing philosophy of successive governments has historically favoured Paris, often called the “city of light”, as the site for all decision making, thus exercising a powerful attraction on virtually all of the nation's activities. Only since the 1960s have attempts been made to reduce the inordinate influence of Paris in French affairs and to strengthen the role of various regions and secondary cities.
Paris has a temperate climate with mild winters (January mean temperature 2.8° C/37° F), cool summers (July mean temperature 18.9° C/66° F), and evenly distributed annual precipitation. Population 2,153,600 (2005 estimate).
Paris is the leading industrial centre of France, with about one-quarter of the nation's manufacturing concentrated in the metropolitan area. Industries engaged in the manufacture of consumer goods have always been drawn to Paris by the enormous market of the metropolitan population; and modern, high-technology industries have also become numerous since World War II.
Principal manufactured goods include machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, and electrical equipment. The cultural and artistic pre-eminence of Paris has attracted a large publishing industry and the manufacture of a wide range of luxury goods, such as high-fashion clothing and jewellery, for which the city is particularly noted.
Most of the key service activities of the country, especially banking and finance, are concentrated in Paris. The city has made major efforts in recent years to attract the headquarters of multinational corporations and is now one of Europe's most important centres of international business and commerce.
An additional advantage enjoyed by Paris is its location at the heart of one of Europe's richest agricultural regions, with nearby districts, such as the Beauce and Brie, famous for the production of wheat and other crops. This strong agricultural economy has ensured Paris a reliable food supply throughout its history, boosting its world-class cuisine, and has also created a solid economic base for the region. Because the Seine is navigable by barges to points upstream of Paris, the city is an important port (fourth in France, by tonnage), with major concentrations of processing, refining, and distribution activities. The city is also the principal focus of the national rail and motorway networks. Three major airports serve the city. Its metro (underground) system is regarded as one of the most efficient in the world.
Roughly circular in shape, Paris is divided by the Seine, which enters in the south-east and loops to the north before leaving the city in the south-west. The river contains two islands, the Île de la Cité and the smaller Île St Louis, and its Paris course was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
The original site of Paris was on the Île de la Cité and the adjacent left (south) bank of the river. The Romans established a regional capital here in the 1st century ad. With few topographic constraints on its growth, Paris expanded over the years in a generally circular form and was enclosed by a successive series of defensive walls. Once obsolete, the walls were demolished, and their sites were transformed into wide streets and handsome boulevards, creating vital access routes within the city.
Until recent years, building heights within Paris were limited to 20 m (66 ft), or about six stories; thus, the city, although densely inhabited, has a low skyline apart from outlying new development.
A temperate climate exerts an important influence on the life of the city, making it possible for pavement cafés, open-air markets, and other colourful attributes of the urban scene to be enjoyed throughout the year.
Among districts of the city that have maintained an individual character are the Latin Quarter, or Left Bank, near the Seine, noted for educational and cultural pursuits; the expensive residential and commercial districts of the Right Bank near the Champs-Élysées, such as Passy and Auteuil; and the poorer working-class neighbourhoods in the north-east of the city, including Belleville and La Chapelle.
Paris has grown steadily, with interruptions caused by war and disease, since it was chosen as the national capital in the late 10th century. The rate of migration to the city increased markedly during the 19th century as the impact of the Industrial Revolution made itself felt. Migration during this period was especially stimulated by the new railways, which provided easy access to the capital. Paris has long been a refuge for those fleeing persecution and unrest in various parts of Europe. After World War II, however, and well into the 1970s, the city's population became even more cosmopolitan with the arrival on a massive scale of immigrant workers from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Yugoslavia and of former colonial subjects from North Africa, Senegal, Vietnam, and elsewhere. This more recent influx has created a variety of economic and social tensions in Paris. © "France" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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