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Before there was Paris, there was the Seine. Much wider than it is today, the river looped and curved through the region, and at one point, split into two branches. One branch dried up, leaving a wide band of marshlands to the north, while the other, sprinkled with islands, remained. This swampy bog offered little indication that it had potential for urban grandeur. Yet one day it would become the lifeline of one of the world's greatest cities.

Paris is a city that is steeped in history, and its past is omnipresent throughout the city. Over the centuries, the city has been shaped by many great men, a few great women, and its rowdy and rebellious inhabitants: the Parisians. From Philippe Auguste, the first king to build a wall around the city, to François Mitterand, the former French president responsible for I. M. Pei's glass pyramid in the Louvre, Paris's rulers have ensured their places in history by imprinting their tastes and their political visions on the city. But the Parisians have always been skeptical of authority. Whether they are building barricades, hurling cobblestones, or marching through the streets, Parisians have always made it clear that the city belongs to them. They remain very proud of Paris, and, thanks to the city's great art, fashion, and food, Parisians are some of the most cultured people on the planet.

However, over the past few decades, many Parisians have been complaining that the city has lost its soul, that it's turning into Paris Ville-Musée (Paris the Museum). Less edgy than Berlin and less hip than London, Paris seemed to be stagnating. But the city is fighting back, and is slowly reinventing itself as a 21st-century capital. From the young designers setting up shop in the 3rd arrondissement to the pioneering chefs who are experimenting with neo-bistrots, and from new sustainability initiatives—such as the Vélib' bike-rental program—to a growing immigrant population, the city is rapidly changing and Parisian traditions are being injected with a new sense of dynamism. The future of Paris is far from certain but one thing's for sure: Paris is a city on the move.

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