Inhabitants of Orsay are known as Orcéens. There has been a village called Orsay on this site since 999, and the first church there was consecrated in 1157. From the sixteenth century, the town and surrounding area were owned by the Boucher family, and it was in honour of this family that Louis XIV gave the quai dOrsay its name. This is the reason that the Musée dOrsay is not in Orsay. In the eighteenth century, the family of Grimod du Fort bought the land and received the title of comte dOrsay. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian war, Orsay was occupied by the Prussian army. 88 young Orcéens were killed in the First World War. In 1957, largely due to the influence of Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, the Institut de physique nucléaire (nuclear physics institute) was opened in the Chevreuse valley, and the region, especially Orsay, became an important scientific centre. Another development was the creation of the Université de Paris-Sud, whose most important faculty is the faculty of science.

On 19 February 1977, a part of the territory of Orsay was detached and merged with a part of the territory of Bures-sur-Yvette to create the commune of Les Ulis.

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