I am not quite sure how the idea of a coat of arms for Paris existing came to me or why I have missed it entirely up to this point. The symbol as I have discovered is everywhere--in places that I found myself all the time. And yet, it's just recently that it has entered into my awareness. The photos above are two print versions that I was able to uncover, the first feeling somewhat simplistic and cartoonish and the second, not much better but provides additional information. Here's what I could find:
The first mention of a coat of arms goes back to Philippe Augustus as he was laying out the foundations of the city in about 1190. With the French Revolution and the demise of the monarchy, all coats of arms and similar emblems were abolished, not reappearing until the First French Empire with Napoleon granting Paris the right to arms (coats of) in 1811 and finally restored to this traditional form in 1817.
Fluctuat nec mergitur: This Latin phrase meaning, 'She is tossed by the waves, but is not sunk', is the motto of Paris written underneath a ship traversing stormy seas. This symbolism comes from the Seine's boatsmen corporation or trade union that goes back to the Middle Ages. Even though this organization morphed into the municipal government and no longer exists, it's influence over the city is still felt.
The three medals have been added just since the 20th century: The Legion of Honor in 1900, Croix de Guerre in 1919 and Ordre de la Libération in 1945.
That's all I was able to uncover about its history or symbolism. Luckily, I was able to find photos of it proudly displayed on some very obvious façades throughout Paris. Do not, I repeat, do not wander about with your head in the clouds like I did. Here's what you might miss!
On a gate at Musée du Moyan Age (Cluny)
The façade of Gare d'Austerlitz
Could not pin this one down but love it.
Saved the best for last...looked at this EVERY SINGLE DAY for a year and had no clue what it meant. Pont Alexandre III
Photo credit: wikipedia, kinnon@flickr,