City or fantasy? Paris seems to embody both. Its romantic side shines through as you stroll arm-in-arm along the quays that border the Seine; its historical significance is more than apparent in its abundance of golden domes, Gothic spires, and magnificent palaces clustered in the city centre. The French capital is also a restless and on the move, its inhabitants constantly on the go, hurrying to catch the métro or the bus, hopping from café to brasserie, or rushing along the broad sidewalks of the Champs-Élysées or the narrow, cobblestone streets of the historic city centre. They may stop for a quick aperitif, a bite to eat, or a cup of coffee, and then get moving again until the next pause.
The city is divided into 20 arrondissements, or districts, each one very different from the other. The upscale 1st district, which includes Île de la Cité, is where the city's history began some 2,000 years earlier; it has little in common with the 8th district, where majestic avenues radiate from the Arc de Triomphe-and even less with the 13th and its Chinese community, or the 19th, with its small African boutiques. Each district has its landmarks, each its own spirit and rhythm. And it is precisely this juxtaposition of parallel worlds that brings Paris to life.
Historically as well as culturally, Paris has undergone many incarnations-from a Roman city and medieval centre, to Paris, the City of Lights and the present-day, resolutely futuristic Paris. Every now and then, the city forgets its illustrious past, of which it is immensely proud, to venture boldly into the future: from the Louvre's graceful glass pyramid to the immense, 110m Arche de la Défense and the four towers of the Très Grande Bibliothèque stretching up towards the sky like books standing on end, controversial new structures are ushering in a new era. While not everyone may admire these new additions to the urban landscape, such controversy is as old as the city itself. Didn't the Eiffel Tower, in its day, draw insults, mockery, and even scorn?