top of page
  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

French Symbols - Paris' Motto - Fluctuat Nec Mergitur


While we recently learned more about the history of the fleur de lys, Paris' motto has remained as constant as the city itself for centuries. It has come to light more and more in these last years, for a variety of reasons. What does it really mean, and where did it come from? Let's take a P'Niche peek to learn a bit more...


It was Les Marchands de l'eau who were granted the royal privilege for commercial navigation on the Seine River in 1170. Their sailing route was between Paris and Mantes.

Their seal, from around the year 1210, displayed a river boat at sail. Fast forward to the mid 1300s, when the sailing vessel now also featured the fleur de lys.

It was in 1358 when Étienne Marcel (provost of the merchants of Paris) displayed this crest with the colors of blue and red.

Let's take a closer look...


The actual design of the motto is quite straightforward - it is a ship, at full sail, tossed about a tumultuous sea.

The wording "Fluctuat Nec Mergitur" is translated from the Latin as "She is tossed, but she does not sink." Of course, She is our beloved city of Paris.

These words are actually an abbreviation from a longer Latin phrase.

Niteris incassum navem submergere Petri / Fluctuat at numquam mergitur illa ratis. It means: "In vain you strive to submerge the ship of Peter, but though this vessel rocks but is never submerged."


This longer verse is quoted by either Pope Gregory IX or Pope Innocent IV as it pertained to the war against Frederick II (Holy Roman Emperor from 1220 and King of Jerusalem from 1225), when Frederick had destroyed the Genoese fleet.

It was in 1567 when this verse was first seen in print, by Matthias Flacius (a notable Lutheran religious reformer and Theologian.)


Let's move ahead a little further in time...

We will note that this robust motto started now appearing in direct connection with the city of Paris on coinage in the 1580s.

As we enter the French Revolution in 1789, we find that not only were the royals and aristocrats abolished, but with them, any coats of arms and emblems (with the total removal of these illustrative items carried out in November 1790).

Our French boat was indeed tossed about the waves at this point. But sunk? Never!


It is well documented that this fierce emblem resurfaced (pun intended) under regimes from the July Monarchy through the Second Republic.

As we enter the First French Empire, cities were permitted to have and display coats of arms. It was Napoleon who granted Letters Patent to the city of Paris on January 29, 1811.

Louis XVIII restored the coat of arms of Paris to its traditional form in the Patent Letters of 1817. There was one significant modification noted here. The fleur de lys (traditional emblem of the monarchy) was replaced now by the three bees Napoleon used as his own decoration. We'll look more at Napoleon's bees, so do subscribe to buzz back into the Parisian Niche.


More changes were to come for our decorative motto, when the July Monarchy reintroduced the pre-revolutionary coat of arms. It was under the French Second Republic (1848-1852) when the newly refurbished fleur de lys were replaced by golden stars.

Let's fast forward again in history. It was Baron Haussmann, the Prefect of the Seine and overseer of the massive project to renovate Paris to the iconic architecture that we recognize today as wholly Parisian, who decreed on November 24, 1853, that the wording "Fluctuat Nec Mergitur" be added to the emblem permanently.


Since then, additions of several badges have been made, resulting in the completed motto we recognize and admire today:

· Legion of Honor

(Decree of October 9, 1900)

· Croix de Guerre 1914-1918

(Decree of July 28, 1919)

· Ordre de la Libération

(Decree of March 24, 1945)


This complete motto has been seen around Paris consistently since then, even if you might not have noticed it.

Look closer at Paris' public buildings, train stations, bridges, schools (including the Sorbonne), police headquarters, fire brigade livery, and even postage stamps.

You will now begin to notice what was once a bit discreet to those not in the know - now you know, P'Nicher!


Our story takes a serious turn here. Twice in 2015, Paris was struck by terrorist attacks. The first was on January 7th at the satirical magazine of Charlie Hebdo, resulting in 12 deaths.

A second coordinated attack then took place on the evening of November 13th, when at least 130 were killed, with over 350 injured. Hate and terrorism were trying to bring Paris and France to its knees.


Hate and terror did not win.

While the motto, prior to this date, was a bit more hidden from plain view, these attempts to terrorize Paris brought this emblem of absolute defiance and strength immediately to the forefront.

Paris will not submit to terror.


From peaceful public protests of strength, to creative street art, to the Eiffel Tower herself, Paris had words for the world.

We are tossed, but we are not sunk.

This motto of city and national pride has since been at the forefront of our minds and public viewing.


Even more recently, the motto has come back once again to show Paris' strength and resilience.

On April 15, 2019, a massive fire nearly destroyed the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Again, Paris rose to the occasion with words of solidarity and calls to rebuild - seen here in the soccer stadiums and uniforms of unity.


The motto is even (sort of) incorporated into the historical plaques you see about town..

You know what is missing from the many various versions of the emblem? Oars!

Paris has taken care of this. The plaques detailing historical points of Paris are shaped as newly added oars, ones we might use for navigating a ship, except that we use them to "navigate history!"

While the thought is to replace these with interactive kiosks, for now, these oars are in place and Paris pays €1.2M annually to JC Decaux for these unique and informative indicators.

P'Niche is a top fan of the historic oars!


When in Paris, P'Niche's favorite places for "Fluctuat Neg Mergitur" peeping are:

· Hotel de Ville

Pl. de l'Hôtel de Ville, 75004

Métro: Hotel de Ville (Line 1)

· Institut Catholique de Paris

21, rue d’Assas, 75006

Métro: Rennes (Line 12)


· Fountain in front of Saint-Sulpice

2 Rue Palatine, 75006

Métro: Saint-Sulpice (Line 4)

· Alexandre III Bridge - Streetlamps

Pont Alexandre III, 75008

Métro: Invalides (Lines 8, 13)

· Musée Carnavalet

23 Rue de Sévigné, 75003

Métro: Saint-Paul (Line 1)

There are many more to be found on your treasure hunt. Let's pose a playful question, P'Nichers... - where do you peep for Fluctuat Nec Mergitur symbols on Paris? Where have you find your favorite ones? Sound off in the comments below et à bientôt!



Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page