Why is Paris called the City of Light?

While Paris has a lot of nicknames, one that stands out a lot (and also causes a lot of questions and confusion) is “City of Light”. And why not? The city is filled with shining boulevards and bridges. And while it is true that Paris is illuminated with bright lights, they are not the reason why it is called the City of Light.

Girl taking photo of Eiffel Tower at night

The origin of this nickname dates back to the mid-1600s when The Sun King Louis XIV was trying to restore faith amongst his citizens after domestic unrest. He wanted to make the city safe again. The lieutenant-general of the police force took up the task of lighting the city to catch any offenders hiding from the law.

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Lanterns were introduced on every street of Paris, and the citizens were asked to light up their windows with oil lamps and candles. No European city had streetlamps until this point, and Paris was the first to set up a structured system of streetlamp lighters, thus making it the first well-lit city at night.      

Paris Evening Lantern

The name City of Light gained popularity in the mid-18th-century when Paris became the center of educational and scientific revolution. During the age of enlightenment, Paris played a key role in the fields of philosophy and politics.

Around 1828, the city also started adopting gas lamps. The first gas lamps used fuel created from distilled coal which was called ‘town gas’ or ‘manufactured gas’. Paris began to light up Champs Elysées with this lamp. Some believe that the city received this nickname for being one of the early adopters of the gas lamp.

Paris Pont Alexander III bridge at night

Is it City of Light or City of Lights?

There has been a debate whether Paris is the city of light or the city of lights. In French, it was known as La Ville Lumière, literally translated to ‘The Light City’ or ‘The City of Light’. A majority of the French believe that La Ville Lumière refers to the age of enlightenment and has nothing to do with the actual light fixtures.

During the Age of Enlightenment, Paris was the hub of intellectual and philosophical movements. An exciting time for inventions, Paris was filled with motivated poets, engineers, and scientists and was the center stage for development.  

Paris Louvre at Night

Although the literal translation gives us the name City of Light, it is often interchangeably used with the City of Lights, giving it a whole new meaning, and revolving around the theory of light bulbs. But the initial name, La Ville Lumière, is believed to be about the light of knowledge and not about the light bulbs.

Paris Montmartre at Night

Paris and its Nicknames

If you’ve explored the origins of Paris, you know the French capital is as famous for its style and macarons as it is for its many unique names. Paris has had a long list of nicknames since ancient times. Some are still going strong today, whereas some have been lost forever.

  1. The city where Paris stands today was initially called Lutèce. It was named after the Roman city of Lutetia from the 3rd century BC. 
  2. Parisii was the first name that started the story of Paris. It was later changed to Parisios, and then to Paris around 887 AD.
  3. Pantruche, derived from Pantin, is uncommon and old slang for Paris.
  4. Paname (the French word for Panama). However, this nickname was not based on the Central American country but rather on their caps. Panama’s signature hats were extremely popular in Paris in the early 20th century.
  5. The Fashion Capital (Capital de la Mode)
  6. City of Love and Romance
  7. City of Lights or La Ville Lumière
Paris Orsay Museum and Eiffel Tower at Night

Whatever moniker Paris is known by, Paris still intrigues the world and continues be in the Top Ten of a multitude of travel destination lists! So get going on a planning a trip soon!

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How about you? What is your favorite nickname for Paris? Have you heard of any others that are not listed here? Do tell!

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Paris Orsay Museum and Eiffel Tower at NightGirl taking photo of Eiffel Tower at nightParis Pont Alexander III bridge at night

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  1. I’ve always known Paris as the city of love and not the city of light. But now I understand. It’s great to know why it’s called the city of lights

  2. Paris is such a great city. I know it’s called the city of lights but I did not know why. I hope I can visit this beautiful city someday

  3. I never knew why Paris was called the city of light. I found your post very informative and interesting. Thank you for sharing such great information about Paris.

  4. I love all that I am learning from you about Paris from reading your posts. Not only are they interesting but they are also very informative. I always look forward to reading what is next.

  5. This is really great to know! This is so interesting thanks for sharing this! I would really love to go to Paris!