Ile de la Cité

The oldest part of Paris is the settlement of Lutetia on the Ile de la Cité

“In A.D. 358, the twenty-five-year-old Emperor Julian [of Rome] found Lutetia (as the Roman colony on the Ile de la Cité was called), with its vineyards, figs and gentle climate, so thoroughly agreeable that he refused a summons to lead legions to the Middle East. ‘My dear Lutetia,’ he wrote. ‘It occupies an island in the middle of the river; wooden bridges link it to the two banks. The river rarely rises or falls; as it is in summer, so it is in winter; the water is pleasant to drink, for it is very pure and agreeable to the eye.’ Julian sojourned there three years, thus in effect making Paris the de facto capital of the Western Empire, counterpart of Constantinople in the East. Indeed he proclaimed himself emperor on the Ile de la Cité…

The Roman city of Lutetia

“It was not only the gentle alluse of muddy Lutetia, its vineyards and the ‘clear and limpid’ waters of the Seine that attracted the Romans. From earliest days the navigable Seine and the north-south axis which intersected it at the Ile de la Cité formed one of Europe’s most important crossroads. The island itself constituted a natural fortress, all but unassailable–except when unprincipled barbarians like the Norsemen took it from the rear by floating down from upstream, whence the wine, wheat and timber from Burgundy normally came. In the ages before road or rail transport, the Seine–in marked contrast to the estuarial, shallow and narrow Thames–was an ideal river for major commerce.”

Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Vintage Books, 2004, pp 1-2.