The eastern part of Nanterre, bordering the communes of Courbevoie and Puteaux, contains a small part of the La Défense business district of Paris and some of the tallest buildings in the Paris region. Because the headquarters of many major corporations are located in La Défense, the court of Nanterre is well known in the media for the number of high-profile lawsuits and trials that take place in it. The city of Nanterre also includes the Paris West University Nanterre La Défense, one of the largest universities in the Paris region.
The name of Nanterre originated before the Roman conquest of Gaul. The Romans recorded the name as Nemetodorum. It is composed of the Celtic word nemeto meaning "shrine" or "sacred place" and the Celtic word duron (neuter) "hard, tough, enduring". The sacred place referred to is supposed to have been a famous shrine that existed in antiquity.
Inhabitants of Nanterre are called Nanterriennes (feminine) and Nanterriens (masculine).
The sacred shrine of antiquity that is referred to entymologically had been placed by tradition in Mont-Valérien. However, archeologic discoveries made between 1994 and 2005 found a Gallic necropolis which has been dated to the third century BC, and also call into debate both the exact location of the pre-Roman capital of the Parisii and the initial site of Lutetia, the Roman era Paris. The large necropolis, as well as working people's homes from some time later in the ancient era, is near the bank of the Seine, in the northwest of Nanterre, and might be the sacred place that is being referred to entymologically. Lutetia is mentioned by Julius Caesar in 50 BCE, reporting an assembly in Lutetia in 53 BC between himself, commander of the Roman Legions, and local Gallic leaders. Although this had been thought to possibly be Île de la Cité, largely since Caesar mentions an island, the river at Nanterre follows two channels around an island. In 52 BC, the Parisii took up arms with the Gallic war leader Vercingetorix, and Lutetia was captured and burned by one of Caesar's generals. The archeological work in Nanterre has suggested over 15 hectares of pre-Roman or Roman era construction. These archeologic findings may be an indication that Nanterre was the closest pre-Roman settlement to the City's modern centre.
On 27 March 2002, Richard Durn, a disgruntled local activist, shot and killed eight town councilors and 14 others were wounded in what the French press dubbed the Nanterre massacre. On 28 March, the murderer killed himself by jumping from the 4th floor of the Quai des orfèvres, in Paris, while he was questioned by two policemen about the reason for his killing in the Nanterre City Hall.
The rugby union club Racing 92, currently based in another Paris suburb, Colombes, are building a new stadium in Nanterre. The venue, scheduled to open in 2016, is tentatively known as Arena 92. It will have a capacity of 32,000 for rugby and 40,000 for concerts.
¹This group is made up largely of former French settlers, such as pieds-noirs in Northwest Africa, followed by former colonial citizens who had French citizenship at birth (such as was often the case for the native elite in French colonies), and to a lesser extent foreign-born children of French expatriates. Note that a foreign country is understood as a country not part of France in 1999, so a person born for example in 1950 in Algeria, when Algeria was an integral part of France, is nonetheless listed as a person born in a foreign country in French statistics.
²An immigrant is a person born in a foreign country not having French citizenship at birth. Note that an immigrant may have acquired French citizenship since moving to France, but is still considered an immigrant in French statistics. On the other hand, persons born in France with foreign citizenship (the children of immigrants) are not listed as immigrants.