Latin Quarter Paris
The Latin Quarter Paris (5th/6th arrondissements) is so called because at one time the university in this district customarily taught in Latin. Robert de Sorbon founded the Collège Sorbonne in 1257. It was a theological college of the University of Paris. The name Sorbonne has, in recent times, become synonymous with the University of Paris. Regardless of the name, the University and its students has been the heart of the Latin Quarter for hundreds of years.
Old Paris and Her Ècrivans (writers)
Rue Saint Jacques was the backbone of the Latin Quarter Paris although today people will tell you it is Boulevard Saint Michel. At the northern end of the Latin Quarter, between rue Saint Jacques and rue Saint Michel you will find a warren of little streets that still reflect the “flavor” of old Paris before the Haussmannian building era of the late 19th century. Rue de la Parcheminerie (Parchemin is the French word for parchment. ) was at one time a street for scribes and manuscript copyists. Rue de la Parcheminerie is a short little street that runs between Rue de la Harpe and Rue Saint Jacques.
Rue de la Parcheminerie intersects Rue Saint Séverin you will find the Church of Saint Séverin. The Church of Saint Séverin can also be accessed from either from Boulevard Saint-Germain (across from Cluny Square) or from Rue Saint Jacques. This is one of the oldest standing churches in Paris.
Within this warren of streets in the Latin Quarter Paris is rue de la Huchette. Elliot Paul who was an American journalist lived on rue de la Huchette after World War I. His book Narrow Street is a semi-fictional account of the years he spent living on rue de la Huchette. His delightful description of the street in the 1920s is captivating as he talks of the pushcarts of vendors, knife-grinders, and of the local residents using the street as a communal front yard. Paul also wrote The Last Time I Saw Paris which is of no relation to the movie by the same name.
For an in-depth description of the houses of this era, I would suggest reading Father Goriot(Le pèrè Goriot ) by Honoré Balzac where he decribes the houses as “gloomy with walls like a prison” and the old people as “sinking into the grave” while the young are “doomed to the treadmill”. The house at 30 rue Tournefor is the location of Maison Vauquer which he describes in his novel.
Other Americans such as Ernest Hemmingway, George Orwell, James Joyce and Sylvia Beach among a few found their way to the Latin Quarter to live and create.
Universities of the Latin Quarter Paris
Three hundred years after the establishment of the Sorbonne (the oldest university in Paris), François I founded the Collège of France. Across the street from the Sorbonne at the intersection of rue Saint Jacques and rue des Ecoles, it was at one time called the Collège des trois langues (College of Three Languages) because unlike the Sorbonne that taught strictly in Latin, the Collège des trois langues also taught in Hebrew and Greek. The Collège de France is spoken of as a “showcase of research excellence… and enjoys an unrivaled reputation”.
The University of Pierre and Marie Curie is the leading “French scientific and medical university”. Founded in 1109 on the site of Saint Victor Abbey, the university has for nine centuries been a part of the intellectual community of Paris and in 1959 it became part of the University of Paris (Sorbonne) system.
Places of Interest Latin Quarter Paris
Place Saint Michel has a wonderful fountain of Saint Michel slaying the devil and on both sides of the street you will find some of my favorite French bookstores as well as others very nearby: Gibert Jeune at 5 Place St Michel (The bookstore is actually behind me as I was taking the photo below. If you don’t read French, you can still find lovely wall and desk calenders as well as beautiful photo books), The Abbey Bookstore at 29 rue de la Parchminerie (a Candian bookstore), and Shakespeare and Company.
Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is close by on 37 rue de la Bûcherie and is a well-known English-language bookstore. However, the original Shakespeare and Co owned by Sylvia Beach was located on 12 rue de l’Odéon from 1921 through the end of World War II.
The Panthéon is built on the site where King Clovis in 507 AD constructed a basilica which he planned would eventually hold his remains. In 1791 the basilica was turned into a temple to house the ashes of the great men of France.
Across the street from the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter Paris you will find the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. This church houses the tomb of St Geneviève who is the patron saint of Paris. Saint Genevive converted King Clovis to Christianity in the 5th century and is credited with saving the city from attack by Attila the Hun and his army of 700 000. The Church boasts the only surviving rood screen, an ornate 17th century organ, and stained glass from the 16th and 17th centuries. Both Pascal and Racine buried here.
Another interesting church in the Latin Quarter Paris is the Church of Saint-Sulpice. Yes, this is the very church mentioned in the DaVinci Code. Read about the church to find out the real facts.
The Museum of the Middle Ages, sometimes called the Cluny Museum, is located at the corner of boulevards Saint Germain and Saint Michel. Formerly the Hotel de Cluny, it is beside and above the ruins of an ancient Roman bath. Completed in 1480, the building is only one of two 15th century private mansions still surviving. At one time the pied-a-terre of the Cluny Abbey in Burgundy, it now houses relics from the middles ages to include 15th and 16th century tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn.
The Jardin des Plantes is Paris’ Botanical Garden – a place of beauty but also of research. Some of the collections found here are from wild plants/tree populations, some possibly even rare and endangered, which serve as a means of protection and propagation of the species.
Also found here are the Museum of Natural History and a zoo (La Menangerie) which houses some 1800 animals representing 1/3 of the species that are threatened by extinction. The zoo dates from 1794. Both Metro Jussieu (lines 7 and 10) and Metro Gare d’Austerlitz (lines 5 and 10, RER C) are equidistant from the park.
The Arènes de Lutèce are the remains of a Roman amphitheater that could at one time hold 15 000 people was discovered in the late 1800s when a train depot was planned for that location.
Constructed between the first and second century this amphitheater was at one time 150m (492 feet) by 100 m (328 feet) in size.
Self-guided Walking Tours
Do you want to see more of the Latin Quarter Paris when you are in Paris and find out where Balzac, Joyce, Hemingway and others lived and/or worked? Take our Latin Quarter self-guided tours. The first tour explores sights to the east of Boulevard Saint Michel while the second self-guided tour explores sights to the west of Bouldevard Saint Michel.
Click here for the East Tour
Click here for the West Tour
Both tours have interactive maps as well as printable PDF maps.