How exactly did Paris come to be known as the City of Lights, or La Ville Lumiere? It seems no one knows the “exact” reason, but it was probably just not one event that led to it being labelled as so. However experiencing Paris at night one quickly understands that this city deserves the title rightly so.
One theory is the name didn’t come from light at all, but rather as a metaphor for political, cultural, spiritual and intellectual enlightenment from the 18th century’s Enlightenment, when Paris was alive with people such as Voltaire and Rousseau, who were called les lumieres.
Or, from the time of Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, (because the sun always was shining on some part of his empire), who also was instrumental in having gas lanterns installed throughout Paris to provide light to its streets at night.
The lighting of Paris was taken even further during the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, when his prefect, Baron Haussman, tore down much of Paris to widen its streets, create boulevards, and at the same time, provide even better lighting for its now new streets. Haussman wanted open air spaces and sunlight, with uniformity and order. Incidentally, although creating boulevards seemed like a wonderful architectural idea, it was primarily done to allow troops easy access to any protests that may take place, and make it difficult for people to blockade streets – they learned this from the revolution.
Or perhaps it was because of the Universal Exposition held in Paris in 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was built, then the tallest building in the city and lit up with 10,000 gas lamps. The Exposition had one exhibit called La Fée Electricité – a celebration of the miracle of electricity – perhaps that inspired the title.
Today, Paris spends tens of millions of dollars to ensure it lives up to its title, employing architects, engineers and some 400 lighting technicians. It lights up many of its of its historical sites, to bring out the best of their rich history and symbolism. Truly, there is really quite no other place like Paris at night, the city of light.