Ask people to name some of the most iconic symbols of Paris and they are likely to say the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, among other landmarks. What they are unlikely to mention are the merchant boats that once plied the Seine. So important were these vessels to the survival, wealth and influence of Paris in the Middle Ages, a high-sided boat with a billowing sail was adopted as the heraldic coat of arms for Paris in 1358. It remained the city’s official emblem for more than a thousand years. The seal is typically displayed on public facilities along with the city motto “Fluctuat nec Mergitur” – Latin for “tossed upon the waves, but doesn’t sink.”
Over the centuries, the boat displayed on the coat of arms had been redesigned a dozen or so times, with artists striving for a more majestic look, sometimes by drawing tall-clipper-type ships with multiple masts. But in 1942, when Paris again modified its logo, it aimed for more historical accuracy and showed a high-sided, bowed gondola-like boat with a single mast. That version remained the authorized logo for Paris, until the city opted to modernize it to complement the graphic style of today.