In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Paris

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Digital Resources
  • Gallo-Roman Architecture in Lutetia

Architecture Planning and Preservation Paris
Sean Weiss
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0003


The architecture of the city of Paris encompasses a history of more than two millennia. Paris’s earliest known architecture dates to the start of the 1st century, when the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia developed on the Left Bank and the Île de la Cité. The city subsequently expanded across the Right Bank and the present location of many important ecclesiastical monuments was determined after Clovis I, king of the Franks, made Paris the seat of the Merovingian Kingdom at the start of the 6th century. The cathedral of Notre-Dame, the abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Près, and the French Panthéon (formerly the church of Sainte-Geneviève) were all built on Merovingian sites. Although there is little evidence of the city’s architecture from these early periods, it nevertheless established two enduring principles that broadly characterize the development of the city’s architecture over time. First, Paris’s urban fabric has followed an ongoing process of centrifugal expansion, engulfing the surrounding land until 1869 when it was decided to annex the old eleven faubourgs and make them the surrounding arrondissements, whose outer edges mark the municipal limits of the city. In the 20th and 21st centuries, urban development projects continue apace in the banlieues, or suburbs, beyond the city’s limits, while building campaigns within the capital have principally taken the form of urban infill and renovation projects. Second, subsequent rulers have consistently appropriated the same sites and rebuilt or extended them as a mark of political ambition. This was the case for important Christian sites as well as for the city’s palace complexes, such as the early-13th-century Louvre, which was consistently occupied, rebuilt, and expanded during the Old Regime; partially used as a museum during the French Revolution; and only transformed into a museum in its entirety in the 1980s when President François Mitterand stamped the buildings with his own political ambition in his bid to again transform the city. Collectively, the process of urban expansion and the reappropriation of sites have made the city’s architecture dense with historical layers from different periods of time. It has been the task of historians to peel back these layers to study the social, cultural, and material significance of the city’s architecture. To present the literature on Paris’s architecture in light of its vast history, the following bibliography begins with more general literature and research sources, and it then progresses chronologically, starting with Lutetia’s architecture and ending at the close of the 20th century. As the bibliography moves forward in time, the scholarship becomes denser, especially in the 19th century. This focus in large part reflects the recent nature of the city’s existing built fabric, which was mostly constructed starting in the mid-19th century.

General Overviews

General overviews of Paris’s architecture include monographic architectural histories of the city as well as cultural and urban histories in which architecture features prominently. Pinon 1999 offers a concise overview of the capital’s architectural and urban history since its Roman foundations. Sutcliffe 1993 is an accessible monograph of Parisian architecture between the 15th and 20th centuries. Sutcliffe 1970 treats architecture, planning, and preservation between the mid-19th and late 20th centuries. Evenson 1979 focuses on the architecture of 20th-century Paris and provides a succinct review of earlier periods. Because of the historical importance of Paris’s architecture, it is frequently treated in broader cultural and urban histories of the city. Benjamin 1999 offers a classic criticism of the spaces of 19th-century Paris as paradigms of consumer culture. Hazan 2010 unfolds the history of the city and its architecture by walking the reader through its neighborhoods. Although principally a culturally history of Paris, Sante 2015 illuminates some of the capital’s more marginalized and neglected spaces of the 19th and 20th centuries that do not figure prominently in other histories of the city’s architecture.

  • Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

    Account of 19th-century Paris that uses the city’s iron and glass architecture, such as universal exposition pavilions and arcades, as a point of entry into a critical analysis of mass consumption and capital’s dominance over modern urban life. Benjamin left the book unfinished upon his death in 1940. German edition published in 1982 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag).

  • Evenson, Norma. Paris: A Century of Change 1878–1978. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

    Accessible history of modern Paris from 1878–1978 with thematic chapters covering architecture, urban planning, and infrastructure.

  • Hazan, Éric. The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps. Translated by David Fernbach. London: Verso, 2010.

    Urban and cultural history of Paris organized around walking through the city’s neighborhoods. Weaves together a historical account of the city and its architecture throughout time while leading the reader through the city. French edition published in 2002 (Paris: Seuil).

  • Pinon, Pierre. Paris, biographie d’une capital. Paris: Hazan, 1999.

    Accessible overview of Paris’s history by an architectural historian who emphasizes architectural and urban projects from throughout the city’s history.

  • Sante, Luc. The Other Paris. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015.

    A cultural history of Paris, principally during the 19th and 20th centuries, which addresses the history of the city’s more marginalized spaces, such as its lost medieval streets, shantytowns, brothels, and cabarets.

  • Sutcliffe, Anthony. The Autumn of Central Paris: The Defeat of Town Planning, 1850–1970. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1970.

    History of urban development in the 19th and early 20th centuries that focuses on Paris’s first four arrondissements in the city’s center on the Right Bank. Demonstrates how the neighborhood’s physical contours became fixed in the mid-19th century.

  • Sutcliffe, Anthony. Paris: An Architectural History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.

    Accessible chronological history of Parisian architecture, especially between the 15th and late 20th centuries.

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