The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                               PAGE TWO

Paris Enigma ~ the answer continued . . .
A Major Paris Enigma - The Origin of Its Name 
                                                                                                                                                                   by Arthur Gillette 

The Romans conquered Paris in 52 B.C. (who knows what, if anything, it was called before?) and named it Lutetia, which roughly translates as 'Swampville'.   Lutetia only gave way to Civitas Parisorum ('City of the Parisians') around the middle of the 4th century A.D.   But, the earliest written version of the name Paris so far discovered, which can still be seen at the Musée de Cluny's Roman section, was carved on a votive pillar raised during the 14 – 37 A.D. reign of Tiberius Caesar by the nautae parisiaci ~ the Parisian boatmen's guild. 

'Paris' is, however, certainly older.  Writing more than half century before Tiberius, Julius Caesar refers to a nomadic Celtic clan,  which originally arrived on Île de La Cité around 250 B.C.,  as the Parisii. But that just pushes the quest back a notch. Whence the name Parisii?

One charmer: early inhabitants are said by some historians to have wanted their town to be on a 'par' ~ Latin ~ with the marvelous legendary Breton island city in Douarnenez Bay, flooded to disappearance (and of which no underwater trace has ever been found), of Ys.  Get it? Par Ys.

An Egyptian Connection?

Paris is a crossroads of waterways, a hub where the Seine, the Oise and the Marne Rivers meet.  Those early Celts were known to be merchant boatmen and minted fairly elaborate coinage to facilitate commercial transactions.  In their language,  par meant 'boat' or 'barge'.  But, where did the isii suffix come from?

One explanation, which has repeatedly reared its unorthodox head over the centuries, is para Isvos ~ those wandering Parisii wanted to 'settle' where they could worship Isis ~ none other than the Egyptian 'venerable mother' goddess.  Similarly, some specialists attribute 'Paris' to the Egyptian per Isis ~ a 'temple to Isis'.

Transiting via Greece, her fertility cult was in fact celebrated in the Roman Empire, and a temple was consecrated to her in Rome itself by Emperor Caligula in 69 A.D.   She was early associated with Venus, from whose name the French derived vendredi – yup, our 'Friday' which happens to stem from that other fertility goddess, the Norse Frea

Sounds like a far-fetched etymological explanation of 'Paris'?   Jean Favier, one of France's leading historians, submits that the 'Isis connection' with Paris is 'abusivement précoce' ~ read: 'too early'.   Maybe. . .but, maybe not. As late as the 16th century, the  French travel writer Gilles Corrozot (no dummy, he translated Aesop's fables from the Greek) openly affirmed that 'Paris' came from 'Isis'.  And the possible link would help clarify a number of other enigmas.  Just one example: in an orthodox interpretation, the Gallery of Kings gracing the main façade of Notre Dame Cathedral shows the Kings of Judah. Problem: those monarchs numbered 15 or 17, and here we have. . . 28.  That just happens to be the lunar cycle, linked with the Venus/Isis fertility cult.

A Swiss Connection?

Near Saint-Germain des Prés, one of the oldest churches in Paris, is the Carrefour de la Croix Rouge ~ Red Cross Square. A couple of years ago, I spent a summer afternoon there stopping passersby at random to ask the origin of the cross-section's name.  The almost invariable answer?  "Well, um, it must commemorate the Swiss humanitarian organization."  Wrong!  Just when Corrozot was affirming the 'Egyptian connection', the good brothers from Saint-Germain erected a brightly-colored cross there to exorcise pagan practices, including the cult of guess whom! 

As late as the eleventh century, an image of Isis, confused with Paris' patron Saint Genevieve (she divinely protected the city from Attila's 6th century hordes), stood before Saint-Germain, interpreted by a 19th century author as part of 'a mother's cult.'   It has even been affirmed that a statue inside the church, supposedly representing the Black Virgin, was venerated (particularly by barren women) as Isis. It is said that, in 1514, Saint-Germain Abbot Guillaume Briçonnet decided to end the speculation and confusion, and had the statue smashed.

What is sure is that reference to Isis worship dies hard. It is part and parcel of the Free Masons' rituals, an Isis Lodge having been created in Paris in August 1785.  Mozart's 1791 Masonic initiation opera, The Magic Flute, makes explicit reference to Isis. A simplified version of it was performed when the Luxor obelisk was erected on the Place de La Concorde in 1836 under the title The Mysteries of Isis.  Composed not long afterwards, Verdi's Aida has Isis designate Radiates as commander-in-chief of Egypt's armies.

An Issy Connection?

Researching for this article, I  got a light bulb flash: 'Hey, what about Issy les Moulineaux?!'  This is a suburb just to the west of Paris, where the Parisii probably farmed two millennia ago.  The Town Hall there was circumspect: "A relationship with ‘Isis’ is rather uncertain," I was told. "17th to 19th century historians, in good faith, created a real myth, assimilating 'Isis' and 'Issy', but 'Issy' may come from the Gallic 'ceton', meaning woods or forest, or 'ischol' meaning oak, which leads me to think there may have been a Druid community here."

So: Paris = Isis? Go figure…

Arthur spices his commentary with enigmas of this kind 
when guiding his 16 personalized strolls to discover 'Paris Through the Ages'. 
For further information send an email query to

Ici et Là

This column is intended to advise you about cultural events, news and happenings
in France or France-related events taking place in the United States
between now and the publication of our next issue.

In France. . .

o  Smoking in France. . .The French Government announced in late 2006 its intention to forbid smoking in all enclosed public spaces.  This is in keeping with a wave of anti-smoking legislation, which began here in the US and has since taken hold in several European countries, Spain and Italy among them.  The smoking ban came into effect February 2007 and it prohibits smoking in public places, including offices and schools. The ban will extend to restaurants, dance clubs and some bars, in 2008. For more information visit:  Earlier (January 10 of 1991) the Evin Law prohibited smoking in public places (museums, monuments, cinemas) or on public transport. Restaurants soon began dividing into smoking and non-smoking areas. [courtesy of Maison de la France/French Government Tourist Office].

o  Drinking in France . . .The legal blood alcohol level for drivers is less than 0.5g/L (instead of 0.7g before September 15, 1995). The police and gendarmerie can test for alcohol levels in a driver's blood test.  Also, it is prohibited to sell or offer alcoholic drinks to minors age 16 and under in drinks outlets, shops and public places. According to the Evin law of January 10, 1991, it is prohibited to introduce alcoholic drinks into sporting and physical-activity establishments. The use of drugs and bringing them into France is strictly forbidden. [courtesy of Maison de la France/French Government Tourist Office].

o  The Palais de Chaillot . . . is an Art Déco complex which includes the Musée de la Marine and the Théatre National de Chaillot but will soon unveil the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, the world's largest center dedicated solely to architecture.  There will even be a life-size replica of Reims Cathedral's smiling angel!  Expected to be fully open this spring, visitors will find activities, exhibits, classes and resources for students and spectators alike.  The concept came to light in 1994, and the project began in 1998; since that time the Ministry of Culture has expended about €75,000,000.  It has had its share of setbacks, but the result is a stunning addition to Paris' cultural scene ~ 247,000 square feet combining the existing Musée des Monuments Français, the École de Chaillot and the Institut Français d'Architecture. 

o  The Year of Armenia. . .will be the theme in museums throughout France in 2007.  Visitors can enjoy exhibits, concerts, films and live performances among other cultural events, highlighted by the exhibit at the Louvre entitled, 'Armenia Sacra', a showcase of Armenian religious art.  At the Institut du Monde Arabe's see  'L'Orient des photographes arméniens' chronicling Armenian life in the Ottoman Empire, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France's 'Livre Arménien' displaying valued manuscripts and printed materials.  For more information on these and other exhibits visit

o And they're off ~ in London. . . The Tour de France 2007 will start this year in London on the 6th of July.  Entitled The Grand Depart, there will be an opening ceremony on Trafalgar Square followed by the traditional three weeks of cycling testing the endurance of cyclists from around the world.  The race begins outside of France every three or four years, so this London start is not that unusual.  The race, held annually since 1903 (with the exception of during WWI and WWII) it follows a course of about 2175 miles with the finish in Paris on the Champs Elysées.  For more details about the route and dates please visit

o  March and April French Immersion Lessons . . .are offered at the exquisite Château de la Barre in the beautiful Sarthe département of France.  Immerse yourself in French and château life for a week of fine food, luxury accommodations and the warm hospitality of Count and Countess de Vanssay, owners of the château which has been in the family since 1421!  For details email or

o  Airbus Industries . . . has scheduled simultaneous landings of their new A380 555-passenger plane at both LAX airport in Los Angeles and JFK airport in New York for March 19th at 9 AM.  Both airports had to make room for this plane which has a wingspan nearly as long as a football field and stands 8 stories high! 

o  Spend a week in Provence learning or practicing your French through cooking classes, art lessons, and participating in interesting day trips to markets, olive oil mills and such places as St Rémy de Provence, Arles and Aix-en-Provence.  Small group tours are now being planned for both the spring and autumn of 2008.  To be added to an email list for information as it becomes available, contact Catherine Dignam at

o Easter Break in France. . . Cristallin is a charming, petit château available for rent during the Easter Weeks at half price:  31 March to 7 April € 950, and 7 April to 14 April € 950.  Book both weeks and receive a further discount.  Also, the château is available for short breaks at great rates.  There are seven bedrooms, a bathroom, a shower room, dining room, fully-equipped kitchen, and two salons, all set on a landscaped one-acre park with a heated swimming pool.  Château Cristallin is on the edge of the small Vendéen village of Charzais, hidden away behind stone walls and magnificent iron gates.  It is only a 30-minute drive to Niort (TGV) and La Rochelle (airport).  For inquiries and photos of this pretty château, send an email to and mention Cristallin in the subject line.

In the US. . .

o  A Fashion Show in Boston. . . Paris Collections 2006 brings the spring, fall and winter collections of ten celebrated designers to the US.  Such renowned names as Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, John Galliano for Christian Dior, and Christian Lacroix are among the exhibitors.  The exhibit presents fashion as fine art and focuses on Paris as the center of the fashion world.  At the Museum of Fine Arts through March 18.

o  Also in Massachusetts. . . in Worcester through March 28, enjoy La Belle Epoque: Works on Paper, 1885-1915 at Worcester's Art Museum.  Featuring drawings, prints and photos from the era when French styles of Realism, Impressionism, Orientalism and Art Nouveau all played a role on fashion in the West drawn from artists such as Whistler, Degas, Renoir and Atget.  For further information

o  Until April 15. . . the Wexner Center for the Arts (, Columbus, Ohio, will commemorate the completion of the Eglise Saint-Pierre in Firminy, France which was designed by the architect Le Corbusier in the beginning of the 1960s, begun in 1970 after his death and then, for funding reasons, left unfinished.  The exhibit, entitled Architecture Interruptus will address the past debate over a project being completed by another architect (José Oubrerie), and will present a scale model of the church with recent drawings and photos compared with the original plans and renderings.

o  Casting Nature: François-Thomas Germain's Machine d’Argent . . . is the name of the exhibit focusing on the elaborate gold and silver ware by Germain whose family served the king of France for generations.  Through March 23 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.   For information:

o  Private Treasures: Four Centuries of European Master Drawings. . . offers the works of French artists of the 17th through 19th century including Watteau, Lorrain and Fragonard.  Until April 8th.  For details:

o  Matisse: Painter as Sculptor . . . is an exploration of the artist's accomplishments in three dimensions.  Over 150 paintings, paper work, sculptures and photos of the artist at work are in the exhibit.  Videos are shown using three-dimensional imagery to show the artist's creative process.  Until April 29 at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center.  For information: or

o  The Annual French Film Festival of the Virginia Commonwealth University. . . showcases a well-selected sampling of feature films and film shorts from France.  The films are presented to the viewing audience by either their directors or actors.  Three days only:  March 30, 31 and April 1 a the Byrd Theatre.  Visit

o  A rare opportunity . . . to see the 1947 Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition of the photographic works of Henri Cartier  Bresson entitled Henri Cartier-Bresson's Scrapbook Photographs, 1932-1946 at the International Center of Photography.  The story is as interesting as the exhibit:  the people at MOMA were planning a tribute to Cartier-Bresson believing he had died in a German prisoner of war camp after three years of imprisonment.  Upon discovering that the assumption was in error, the photographer himself helped MOMA by presenting it with a scrapbook of what he felt were his most important photographs.  Through April 29.  For location and times contact

o  Paris in Transition: Photographs from the National Gallery of Art . . . is the name of the exhibition ending May 6 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.  Don't miss this interesting 'visit' to Paris to see how it played a role in the evolution of French photography. 19th and early 20th century work by Le Gray, Brassaï, Atget and Kertész who were pioneers in the medium. At the National Gallery of Art:

o  Our personal favorite . . . Camille Pissarro was a strong influence on Cézanne and Gauguin.  The exhibit Pissarro: Creating the Impressionist Landscape takes the visitor through the artist's evolution in 45 of his works, including those in his first exhibit in 1874.  Through May 13 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  See for details.

o  Support New Orleans. . . by attending Femme, femme, femme:  Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France is comprised of over 80 works showing women's changing societal roles through the nineteenth century.  Through April 2 at the New Orleans Museum of Art.  Information at

o  Lyric Opera of Chicago. . . presents Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, based upon a true story of nuns guillotined during the Reign of Terror.  Through March 17 at the Civic Opera House.  For details visit

o  Three venues for the Radio France Philharmonic . . . enjoy the 141-member ensemble performing Ravel's ballet score Ma Mère l'Oye (Mother Goose) on March 18 at New York's Carnegie Hall, March 20 at Ann Arbor, Michigan's Hill Auditorium and on March 21 at Chicago's Symphony Center.  The Radio France Philharmonic has been performing since 1976 and was founded in order to bring the French public a wide range of symphonic and chamber music.

o  Pierre-Laurent Aimard . . . performs Ravel, Debussy, Boulez and Schumann in his Perspective series at Carnegie Hall, New York City, with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra on March 30 and then in recitals at Zankel Hall on March 29, April 1st and May 10 and 11.  For times and details contact

Jill Butler,  an American artist with a definite French flair, is offering new and unique original works of art at only $25 each  ~ view the selection at There you will see this whole new body of work from Jill ~ work inspired by her many years in France.  The collection is called 'Birds of a Feather', and all proceeds from the sale of these original works of art will go into a fund to assist with the medical expenses of her brother who is battling cancer.  Contact Jill at   Remember, each is one of a kind!

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