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The municipal arrondissement ( , ) is a subdivision of the commune, used in the three largest cities: Parismarker, Lyonmarker and Marseillemarker. It functions as an even lower administrative division, with its own mayor. Although usually referred to simply as an "arrondissements", they should not be confused with departmental arrondissements, which are groupings of communes within one département.

General characteristics

There are 45 municipal arrondissements in France: 20 in Paris (see: Arrondissements of Paris), 9 in Lyon (see: Arrondissements of Lyon), and 16 in Marseille. However, a law in 1987 assigned the 16 arrondissements of Marseille to 8 secteurs ("areas"), 2 arrondissements by secteur. Thus, in effect, Marseille can be more properly described as being divided into 8 secteurs, the 16 arrondissements having been made hollow units.

The largest arrondissement is the 9th arrondissement of Marseille

The most populous arrondissement is the 15th arrondissement of Parismarker, with 225,362 inhabitants at the 1999 census. If the 15th arrondissement of Paris was a commune, it would be the ninth most populous commune of France, above cities (communes) like Bordeauxmarker, Lillemarker, or Grenoblemarker.
The least populous arrondissement is the 16th arrondissement of Marseille, with only 16,574 inhabitants.

However, the 16th arrondissement is part of the 8th secteur of Marseille (87,714 inhabitants), and is not really administered by itself as explained above.

Thus, the least populous arrondissement in France is the 1st arrondissement of Parismarker, with 16,888 inhabitants at the 1999 census.

The twenty arrondissements of Paris.
The arrondissement with the highest population density is the 11th arrondissement of Parismarker, with 40,672 inh. per km² (105,339 inh. per sq. miles) in 1999.
The arrondissement with the lowest population density is the 9th arrondissement of Marseille, with 1,151 inh. per km² (2,981 inh. per sq. miles) in 1999.

Municipal arrondissements do not have names, they have only numbers (except in Paris where they also have names, but nobody uses those names, not even the Paris administration). In Paris, people are well used to the arrondissements, and when asked where they live they will answer with the number of their arrondissement. In Lyon, three arrondissements - Vieux Lyon (5th), la Croix Rousse (4th) and Vaise (9th) - are generally referred to by name, while the others are referred to by number. In Marseille, it is common for people to refer to the names of the neighborhoods, such as Ste. Anne or Mazargues, but also to the number of the arrondissements.

The sixteen arrondissements and eight secteurs of Marseille.
Municipal arrondissements are used in the five-digit postal codes (ZIP Codes) of France. The first two digits are the number of the département in which the address is located (75 for Paris; 69 for Rhônemarker in which Lyon is located; thirteen for Bouches-du-Rhônemarker in which Marseille is located), then the last three digits are the number of the arrondissement. So the postal code of a person living in the 5th arrondissement of Parismarker will be "75005 Paris", and for a person living in the 14th arrondissement of Marseille it will be "13014 Marseille". The only exception is the 16th arrondissement of Parismarker, which is divided between two postal codes: "75016 Paris" in the south of the arrondissement, and "75116 Paris" in the north of the arrondissement.

The arrondissements of Paris form a clockwise spiral or snail pattern beginning from the 1st in the centre. Those of Marseille, however, form a meandering path from the 1st down through the Southwest, to the Southeast, Northeast and finally to the Northwest. However, the arrondisements of Lyon do not form any discernible pattern at all, and only two pairs of consecutive numbers - the 1st and 2nd, and the 7th and 8th - touch each other.

Some other large cities of France are also divided between several postal codes, although there the postal codes do not correspond to arrondissements.


The first municipal arrondissements were created on August 22, 1795 when the city (commune) of Paris was split into twelve arrondissements. At the time, the National Convention was wary of the municipalities in big cities because of their revolutionary moods (Paris) or because of their counter-revolutionary leanings (Lyon and many other cities in the provinces), and so the Convention decided to split the large cities (communes) of France into smaller communes. Paris, unlike the other large cities, was not split into smaller communes, but into arrondissements, a newly created category, and the central municipality was abolished.

The twelve former arrondissements of Paris.
In 1805 Napoleon reunited all the large cities of France, but Paris was left divided. Eventually, in 1834, the city (commune) of Paris was reunited, with a municipal council for the whole city, but without a mayor, the municipality being ruled by the préfet of the Seinemarker département and by the préfet de policemarker. The twelve arrondissements were preserved, being needed for the local administration of people in such a large and populous city as Paris.

On December 31, 1859 the central government enlarged the city of Paris, annexing the suburban communes surrounding Paris, and the arrondissements were reorganized due to the enlargement. Twenty arrondissements with new boundaries were set up, and they are still the arrondissements found today in Paris.

In the case of Lyon, in 1852, after more than fifty years of hesitations, the central government finally allowed Lyon to annex its immediate suburbs, which had become extremely populous with the Industrial Revolution. The commune of Lyon annexed the communes of Croix-Rousse, La Guillotière, and Vaise. Wary of the new size of the city and the power held by the municipality, the central government decided to divide Lyon into five arrondissements, and the office of mayor of Lyon was abolished. The préfet of the Rhône département was left to rule the municipality.

The nine arrondissements of Lyon.
In 1881, the office of mayor of Lyon was re-established, and the commune of Lyon reverted to the standard status of French communes. However, the arrondissements were maintained, again being needed in such a populous city as Lyon. New arrondissements were created in Lyon in 1867, 1912, and 1957 by splitting the 3rd and 7th arrondissements. In 1963 Lyon annexed the commune of Saint-Rambert-l'Île-Barbe, and in 1964 the 9th arrondissement of Lyon was created as a result of the annexation, thus reaching a total of nine arrondissements, which are still the arrondissements found in Lyon today.

In 1977, the office of mayor of Paris was re-established after almost 183 years of abolition, but the arrondissements were left untouched.

The most important moment in the history of the municipal arrondissements was in 1982. The Socialistsmarker won the French general elections in 1981, and in 1982 they passed several key laws redefining the powers of the régions, départements, and communes, with the clear objective of ushering into a less centralized France. On December 31, 1982 was passed the so-called "PLM Law" (Loi PLM), where PLM stands for Paris Lyon Marseille. These three communes were given a special status, derogatory to the general status of communes, and the three communes were officially divided into arrondissements. Where arrondissements already existed such as in Paris or Lyon, the law preserved the boundaries of these already existing arrondissements. In Marseille, where apparently there were no arrondissements before 1982, 16 arrondissements were set up.

The municipal arrondissements were given an official status by the law, with each their town hall (mairie d'arrondissement), and each their mayor (maire d'arrondissement). For the first time in history, arrondissement councils (conseils d'arrondissement) were created in the arrondissements, directly elected by the inhabitants of the arrondissements. The three city halls (mairies) of Paris, Marseille, and Lyon were preserved above the mairies d'arrondissement, with a mayor (maire) for each city above the maires d'arrondissement.

In these three cities the arrondissements were made the administrative unit dealing with citizens. For birth or marriage recordings, for all necessary queries and official business, citizens go to the mairie d'arrondissement, while the city hall (mairie centrale) does not have contacts with the citizens and is in charge of only larger matters such as economic development or local taxation. It was felt that the arrondissements would be closer to citizens, who would have an easier access to the local arrondissement town hall rather than to a centralized city hall.

The law was largely welcomed, but some wondered why it was applied only to Paris, Lyon, and Marseille. These three cities are the largest in France (with 2,125,246 inhabitants in Paris, 798,430 inhabitants in Marseille, and 466,000 inhabitants in Lyon) and the law was meant to have the local administration closer to citizens in so populated cities. However, many thought the law could have been applied to other cities, in particular to the fourth largest city of France, Toulouse (435,000 inhabitants), and the fifth largest city, Nice (342,738 inhabitants); both cities where the central city halls also have to deal with an enormous amount of citizens. Nonetheless, to this day only Paris, Lyon, and Marseille are divided into arrondissements.

In 1987, a new law assigned the 16 arrondissements of Marseille to 8 secteurs, 2 arrondissements by secteur, as explained above; and in Marseille there are now only 8 mairies d'arrondissement, each one administering the 2 arrondissements of each secteur.


The PLM Law of 1982 governs the status of the municipal arrondissements.

Unlike French communes, municipal arrondissements have no legal "personality", they are not considered legal entities and have no legal capacity; also, they have no budget of their own.

The three communes of Paris, Lyon, and Marseille are ruled by a municipal council and a mayor. In Paris the municipal council is called Paris council (conseil de Paris). Each arrondissement (or secteur in Marseille) has an arrondissement council (conseil d'arrondissement) and an arrondissement mayor. The arrondissement council is made up for one-third of members of the municipal council elected at the commune level above the arrondissements, and for two-thirds of councilors elected inside the arrondissement. The arrondissement mayor is elected by the arrondissement council. He must be a member of the municipal council of the commune.

The law of February 27, 2002 on local or "proximity" democracy increased the powers of the arrondissement councils and of the arrondissement mayors.

Rights and duties of the arrondissement council and mayor:
  • The arrondissement council manages local community facilities (child care centers and public nurseries, sport centers and stadiums, local parks, etc.), but it must obtain authorization from the municipal council before building new facilities.
  • The arrondissement council is asked for advice by the municipal council in any project whose completion will take place on the territory of the arrondissement. In particular, the arrondissement council gives an opinion on matters regarding local non-profit associations and on modifications of local zoning (Plan Local d'Urbanisme).
  • Arrondissements also have a say in social housing: dwellings part of social housing (council flats) which are located on the territory of the arrondissement are partly allocated by the arrondissement mayor (half of the social dwellings), while the other half is allocated by the mayor of the commune.
  • The arrondissement mayor and his deputies are in charge of registering births, deaths, and marriages in the arrondissement.
  • The arrondissement council can submit written questions to the mayor of the commune on any matter regarding the arrondissement. It can also ask the municipal council to debate over any matter regarding the arrondissement.
  • The municipal council and the mayor of the commune can delegate certain powers to the arrondissement councils and mayors.
  • The arrondissement council can create neighborhood committees (conseils de quartier). These neighborhood committees have people in a given neighborhood meet regularly and draft proposals concerning life in their neighborhood.

See also

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