With its quaint cafes and small streets, Paris may be the city of love. More importantly, though, it is the city of history and culture.
Latin Quarter Montmartre
The Latin Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in Paris. Today, a mix between modern and medieval architecture, the neighborhood houses plenty of quaint cafes and restaurants. It is also known as the student district of Paris, as it features many prominent schools, most notably the High School Henri IV and the University Sorbonne.
[Stop 1] On top of the hill in the Latin Quarter stands the Pantheon. The start of its construction began in 1758 by King Louis XV, who had promised to build a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve if he managed to overcome a serious illness. By the time that the church was completed, it was after the French Revolution and it was decided that the building will be used as a mausoleum. It went back an forth between a mausoleum and an actual church several times until 1881, when it was officially decreed that it will serve as a mausoleum.
Initially, this hill was topped by a smaller Christian Basilica, built by Clovis, the first king of the Francs, for his wife Clotilde. During his time as king, Clovis often had to defend the city from outsiders. The story goes that during this time, Attila had his sights on the city. The citizens were in panic until Genevieve convinced them that the best decision is to pray. The city prayed for days until Attila came to take the city and noticed the large number of people lined up on the fortress. He then decided that the military was too large to take on and left without attacking. It is said that Genevieve saved the city and became the city's saint upon her death. For this reason, Genevieve was buried with Clovis and Clotilde.
The pantheon is dedicated to all the French people who fought for their country and who helped guide it forward. The main level depicts various scenes of Genevieve's life as well as those from other notable French heroes, such as Joan of Arc. In the crypt, many of these French heroes are laid to rest.
In the middle of the Pantheon's Greek cross layout is Foucault's pendulum, that proves that the Earth is constantly rotating on itself.
The structure of this building was very carefully calculated to ensure that it would be able to support the dome. The dome just above the pendulum actually consists of three domes in order to improve its stability.
When the Pantheon officially became a mausoleum, the main floor windows were taken out to promote a more somber mood. Unfortunately, without that ventilation, a lot of moisture remains in the building causing it to rust faster. As a result, all the metal components in the dome have to be cleaned and repaired every few years to maintain its structural integrity.
One of the most famous French heroes in the Pantheon crypt is Voltaire, who is famous in France for his writings on human freedoms that inspired the Enlightenment.
The inscription on his tomb: "He won over the atheists as well as the religious. He inspired tolerance. He demanded the rights of man against the slavery that is feudalism."
Next to Voltaire rests Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the architect of the building. He is also known for having built l'Hotel-Dieu in Lyon. (Feel free to read more about that in the Lyon post.)
Ironically, across from Voltaire rests Rousseau. While Voltaire and Rousseau were both very influential thinkers that greatly influenced the Enlightenment, they did not get along because they were essentially competitors. Now they are both forced to spend eternity in the same room facing each other.
The first woman to ever be entered in the Pantheon is Marie Currie, along with her husband. Today, the Pantheon features 73 men and 5 women.
The most recent woman to be laid to rest in the Pantheon is Simone Veil, who was a very strong advocate for women's rights as well as other general freedoms.
Many of France's prominent writers are laid to rest in this crypt.
[Stop 2] Sorbonne's school of law faces the Pantheon. Its entrance is just around the corner and, while most of the university is closed to the public after the terrorist attacks in 2015, the law faculty is less stringent making it sometimes possible to take a peek inside.
[Stop 3] On the other side is the Sorbonne's main building. Halfway down the building, there is a green dome that is visible. That is the university's observatory.
[Stop 4] Facing the Luxembourg gardens is the university church. Because the university was originally a theological school, it had its own church. This church is not open to the public and it is kept for historical reasons.
The building is not original to the university. During the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu ordered the reconstruction of the entire university, including the chapel. The reconstruction was done by Jacques Lemercier and includes many references to the Cardinal. Notably, above the door is a high relief sculpture. It depicts Truth on the left and Science on the right staring at the Cardinal's coat of arms topped by the ducal crown and the cardinal hat. The statues that fill the four niches were placed later in the 19th century.
[Stop 5] Thanks to the democratization of education, the 19th century saw a drastic increase in student population. As a result, the Sorbonne was again rebuilt at the end of the 19th century to increase the capacity of the university. The chapel is the only building that remains from the Richelieu reconstruction.
[Stop 6] Across from the Sorbonne is the Cluny Museum, National Museum of the Middle Ages. It features many pieces from the Middle Ages, most notably a lot of tapestries. One of its most famous works of art is
The Lady and the Unicorn
. It is said to represent the five senses ...and yet there are six panels. Art historians are still debating what the sixth sense is.
To the left of the Sorbonne is the College de France. Founded in 1530 by King Francis I to teach subjects not taught at the Sorbonne such as Hebrew and mathematics, the College de France is today one of Europe's leading research institutions. Its motto is
Docet omnia, meaning "teaches all". The goal of the institution is not to give out degrees but to make knowledge accessible to society.
[Stop 7] The College de France offers free lectures throughout the year, given by leading professionals in their fields. Here's the
to the upcoming lectures.
[Stop 8] The
Museum of the police is located on the top floor.
[Stop 9] In the late 1800s, Georges-Eugène Haussmann completely redesigned Paris' architecture and infrastructure. His goal was to make all of the city's facades uniform and to widen the streets to prevent protests and barricades. In the 5th district, you can witness the stark contrast between the medieval architecture (right) and the new Hausmann-style (left).
The difference of the two eras is also highlighted by the way the streets are formed. Before there was a modern sewage system, waste was thrown on to the street and evacuated (more or less) by the gutter running in the middle of the street. Once the modern sewers were built, the streets were built to curl up in the middle to guide the water to the sewers under the sidewalks on the side.
This is a typical example of Hausmann-styled buildings that make up modern Paris. Typically, the second floor, with the largest balconies were the most expensive apartments. Because most Parisian apartments still lack elevators, even to this day, living on the second floor allows for the most amount of privacy with the least amount of stairs. The higher up the apartment, the cheaper it is. The last floor is typically called the servants quarters as that is where the servants of the various apartments would stay. Typically, they have very small rooms with a shared bathroom. They also typically have servant stairs that lead to their floor so they can enter their master's apartment without being seen and without disturbing the family and their guests.
[Stop 10] The first ever French school is said to have been held here. Because at the time, there were no specific buildings dedicated to education, students would simply grab a hay bale to use as a seat and would listen to the teacher speaking from the second story window. The name of the street is "Rue du Fouarre", which means Hay Bale Street in old French.
[Stop 11] After the Second World War, many American expats stayed in France. To feel more at home, they set up jazz clubs. To this day, there are multiple jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter.
[Stop 12] Next to the theater is one of the oldest churches in Paris : Church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. Built in the 13th century, the church is a perfect example of the Romanesque style and a great contrast to the Gothic Notre Dame just across the river.
If you need a break before proceeding to Notre Dame (left), I suggest grabbing a coffee and a choux from Odette (right)
Located in Square René Viviani, this tree the oldest tree in Paris. The Robinia pseudoacacia was said to be planted by Jean Robin in 1601.
[Stop 13] In 1919, Sylvia Beach founded a bookshop for anglophones in the 5th district and became the gather place for many English-speaking writers. In 1941, the bookshop was closed by the Germans. Ten years later, George Whitman opened up a bookstore for anglophones, again in the 5th district, though not in the same location. After Sylvia Beach's death and on the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare, George Whitman renamed the bookstore to Shakespeare and Company in her honor. George Whitman often described his bookshop as a
“socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.”
Today, his daughter, Sylvia Whitman, who was named after Sylvia Beach, runs the store.
[Stop 14] Near Shakespeare and Company is the smallest street in Paris. It gives an idea of how tight many streets in the past were. Take the street to the other side to head over to Notre Dame.
[Stop 15] At the end of the tunnel, across the street, you will see the Police Prefecture. Originally built as barracks for the Republican Guard in the 1860s, the building now houses the headquarters of the police.
To the left of the bridge at the end of the island, you will find the
, or "New Bridge". Today the oldest bridge in Paris, it was the first bridge to be built in stone (as opposed to wood). It was also the first bridge (and road for that matter) to feature sidewalks, allowing pedestrians to avoid walking next to the muddy carriages. Not only that, but it was the first bridge to
feature houses, as was the custom in the Middle Ages.
To the right is Notre Dame de Paris.
[Stop 16] Once featuring a proud spire above the transept and nave crossing, the Notre Dame de Paris is currently under construction due to the unfortunate fire of April 15th, 2019. At top this spire there was a metal rooster that housed three religious relics from the Crown of Thorns and the two patron saints of the city, Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve. The idea was to draw all the positive energy of the heavens to protect the churchgoers.
April 15th 2019 was not the first time that the cathedral suffered destruction. In 1793, a year after King Louis XVI was decapitated, 28 of the biblical king statues also lost their heads at the hands of the people. The cathedral was left to its own defenses, leading to a rapid deterioration. When Napoleon assumed power, the church was in rather terrible condition. The to-be Emperor ordered that the cathedral be cleaned up to serve as the backdrop of his infamous self-coronation in 1804.
Twenty seven years later, Victor Hugo published the novel
Notre Dame de Paris using the cathedral as a metaphor for France. Thanks to his book, funds were raised to begin a significant restoration effort in 1843. The restoration effort was completed in 1864 by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, who took quite a bit of creative liberties during the process. Most notably, he added the gargoyles at the top and the spire, which has now burned down. This was the second wooden spire that the cathedral has had in its history.