8 Historical Facts About Paris You Didn’t Know

Ready yourself with facts and impress your Paris travel companions

by Alice Griffin

Think you know everything about the City of Lights? Think again, these 8 facts about Paris will blow your mind. Read and remember then, your travelling partner or group will be impressed. 


1. Beneath the city streets runs 200 miles of underground tunnels, many housing skulls and bones.

catacombs in paris

Mined in the 13th century to build the city, the discarded tunnels below Paris found a new purpose in the late 1700s as storage space for the city’s dead. During this time, mass graveyards were overflowing. Officials decided to exhume the bones and arrange them in the existing subterranean tunnels, known as the Catacombs. Over the years, parties, séances and war hideouts have all taken place in the Catacombs, and these days tons of tourists descend through the passageways each year to take in this curious sight.

2. Potatoes were illegal in France for 42 years

The introduction of potatoes to France by the Spanish in the late 16th century was slow-going, to say the least. Considering this humble vegetable the cause of deathly diseases like leprosy, the French Parliament banned the cultivation of potatoes soon after their introduction in 1748. This law remained firmly in place until 1772 when pharmacist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier successfully argued that starving locals and dysenteric patients could benefit from the spud’s nourishment.


3. Until 2013, it was illegal for women to wear trousers

paris facts

Following the French Revolution in the late 18th century, a law was passed making it illegal for women to wear trousers unless they sought specific permission from a police officer. This law was introduced in 1800 in a bid to stop French revolutionary women from taking their “liberty” too seriously and to cease their demands of being allowed to perform men’s jobs and wear men’s clothing.

Although women in Paris have been wearing trousers without incident from authorities for decades, until 2013, the French Government considered it unnecessary to repeal an unenforced law already ignored by the public. France’s Minister of Women’s Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem finally struck down this ludicrous law on January 31, 2013. The law lasted 213 years in total.


4. The French-inspired the infamous ‘two-finger’ salute from the English during the Hundred Year War.

The Hundred Year War between France and England in the early 15th century saw lasting animosity between the two European powers. During the battle, in a bid to stop the archers from using their weapons again, the French allegedly chopped off the index and middle fingers of any captured English archers. As a show of defiance against their French enemies, English archers would stick up their two fingers in salute. And so, the infamous ‘two fingers’ sign was born.


5. Searching for bodies in the River Seine proved a fruitful occupation for Parisians in the Middle Ages.

Paris in the Middle Ages was an interesting place. A fee of 101 écus, the equivalent of a year’s wages, was paid out for those who found – and delivered – dead bodies from the banks of the River Seine to authorities. Talk about a floating economy!


6. The shortest-serving French King bore the throne for just 5 days

Baby King John I of France was proclaimed King after his birth on November 15, 1316. He died just five days later on November 20, 1316. Despite his short reign, John I, also called John The Posthumous, is still considered one of the Kings of France.


7. There was a dummy city of Paris

Following the outbreak of World War 1, French authorities created a dummy city of Paris in a bid to fool the German military. Built-in 1918, authorities hoped that the fake Paris would act as a decoy, causing German pilots to drop bombs on this dummy city rather than Paris itself. Located on the northern outskirts of the city, Paris’ alter ego featured sham streets and replica buildings, including the Eiffel Tower and the bustling Gare du Nord train station. However, limited resources meant Paris’ second city was not complete before the last German air raid hit Paris in September 1918. Never tested, the dummy city was deconstructed soon after the war’s end and has since been built over.


8. It’s not historical, we know, but here’s a fun fact for all the dog lovers out there…

dachshund in paris

There are more dogs in the city of Paris than there are children. About 300 000 pooches roam the streets of Paris with their owners, making Paris one of the best cities in the world to make pals with pups!


With these facts about Paris, you can impress your travel companions or partner.  And if they don’t listen keep them until you get home talking through your pictures.

You may also like


Becky Breshears October 19, 2017 - 8:12 pm

Some great interesting facts about Paris. Who would know?

Nisha Sharma October 23, 2017 - 9:11 am

Hi Becky,
Amazing aren’t they. We are glad you liked it. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog if you wish to hear more from us. We send out a fortnightly update on the latest articles and travel pieces we publish.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.