The townscape of Paris, extending on both banks of the Seine with the hills of Montmartre and the Buttes Chaumont in the north and the Montagne de Ste-Geneviève in the south, has a charm all its own. The great ring of boulevards with their constant surge of traffic and their bright lights when darkness falls, contrasting with the peaceful parks and quiet side streets of the old residential quarters, the long lines of streets and the spacious squares, the legendary Champs-Elysées, the magnificent public buildings, palaces and churches, many of them floodlit at night, the profusion of historic buildings and the futuristic architecture of the present day, the fantastic views from the higher points of the city, the busy movement of shipping on the Seine, the little cafés and bistros with their varying personalities, the color and bustle of the weekly markets, the sheer elegance or stylish nonsenses of the famous fashion houses, the unsurpassable gastronomy of France, the endless range of cultural offerings, from the great museums of international standing to the extreme manifestations of pop culture, the incomparable charm of Parisian savoir vivre: all these varied elements contribute to the irresistible attraction of Paris.
Paris, France's national capital and an international metropolis, the seat of government, all the major government departments and many international organizations, the see of a cardinal archbishop and an ancient university town, lies in a wide basin on both banks of the Seine, which here receives its principal tributary, the Marne. Although Paris's free port (Port Autonome) has lost traffic to the roads and the railways it is still the largest French inland port, with facilities for handling individual consignments, container loads and oil.
France's largest city is an economic and cultural metropolis of international importance and worldwide fame. In spite of the transfer of administrative authority from the central government to the regions in recent years Paris still remains the central reference point for the whole country. Although its population has fallen since the 1950s it is still one of the largest concentrations of people in the world. The city is divided into twenty arrondissements (wards or districts), the numbering of which starts from the Louvre and continues in a double spiral, going clockwise. For the initiated the terms "Rive droite" and "Rive gauche" (right bank and left bank) not only have historical significance (the right bank was the middle-class district, the left bank the home of the nobility and aristocracy) but summon up associations with particular kinds of social status and quality of life.
The traditional names of the various quartiers ("neighborhoods") of Paris, which often have very distinctive identities of their own, frequently do not correspond to the official designations but are derived from old place-names, important buildings or their particular character. The former faubourgs have long since been incorporated in the city, while the banlieue outside the city boundaries is the commuter belt of the modern city.
The population of the historic center of Paris is around 500,000 and of the city area (the Ville de Paris) more than 2,085,000, including many foreigners. At the beginning of the 12th century the population of Paris was just under 100,000; by 1850, after the incorporation of the faubourgs, it had reached about 1.5 million within the then existing fortifications. With an area of 105sq.km/41sq.mi, of which 714 hectares/1,764 acres are accounted for by the river, Paris is one of the most densely populated of the world's capitals. If the new départements (formed in 1965 in suburban areas which had coalesced with the city) of Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-St-Denis and Val-de-Marne are included, together with parts of the départements of Val-d'Oise, Yvelines, Essonne and Seine-et-Marne, the "Agglomération Parisienne" has a population approaching 10 million.
The département of Ville-de-Paris, the real city of Paris, is divided into twenty wards or administrative districts officially known as cantons but universally referred to as arrondissements.
Arrondissements I to VIII are centrally situated on both banks of the Seine, while Nos. IX to XX extend in a wide arc round the city center. The arrondissements in turn are divided into quartiers, which are numbered from 1 to 80.