Quartier Latin is the "Scholar's Quarter." It is a place that had great influence on the history of thought of the city of Paris, indeed of the whole of Europe. On this square, some 900 years ago, some of the most famous doctores of their time gave lectures – the foremost among them being Pierre Abélard (1079-1142), who is said to have had up to 5000 listeners. The language of the scholars was Latin, hence the name of the quarter around the Sorbonne University, Quartier Latin.
The crooked houses and dark courtyards around Place Maubert were an ideal place for bands of thieves to live in the Middle Ages, for they needed only one look-out on the roofs who could give the alarm when the police were in the vicinity, so that the riff-raff could take cover in the confusing jumble of houses. If necessary they crawled into the cellars of the houses at the beginning of Rue du Maître Albert, which today are still connected with each other like a true maze: here you get an impression of what the original Paris must have been like.
Bishops and princes erected collèges in Paris for students from their sphere of influence, in which masters and scholars lived andworked together under one roof. Of the oldest one a few stone blocks still remain, but the larger part of of this house at the end of Impasse Maubert is of more recent date. This tranquil spot is part of an neighborhood that is scarcely visited by tourists. Narrow lanes give way to small, tree-filled squares and there are a few restaurant or cafés, for example those at the end of Rue Frédéric Sauton or also where Rue du Maître Albert joins the Quai de Montebello.
Tour d'Argent: The Restaurant Legend of Paris
On the Quai de la Tournelle lies one of the most renowned restaurants of Paris, the Tour d'Argent, which was founded in 1582. From the topmost floors of a large building this luxury establishment boasts a panoramic view of both the Seine islands. A specialty which is still served here, as 100 years ago, is the caneton Tour d'Argent, a "blood duck" which is strangled, so that the blood can be used in preparing the sauce.
Institut du Monde Arabe: The Façade Can Think Too
One of the grands projects of François Mitterrand marks the beginning of Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Institut du Monde Arabe (Institute of the Arab World). The steel and glass structure erected in 1987 is considered a milestone of modern architecture and has become a shrine for architects, students and lovers of architecture worldwide. Jean Nouvel, the French architect, suceeded in representing Arabic decorative traditions using high-tech elements. The Arabic ornamentation of the huge rectangular south façade is created by more than 16,000 screens which can be adjusted according the position of the sun.
Inside there are exhibitions of Islamic art from the 9th to the 19th centuries. From the roof terrace with café and restaurant there is a fine view of Paris. Directly behind the Institute is the complex of the Universités de Paris VI-VII. Built in the 1960's and then celebrated as the ideal of modern building, its concrete architecture now appears oldfashioned and out of place.
The Roman Theater
A walk through the Quartier Latin, once part of the Roman settlement Lutetia, is also a tour to the earliest beginnings of the city. In a small park you will find the remains of the Arènes de Lutèce &, the large amphitheater of Paris in which dramatic performances and gladiator fights were staged – instead of the latter concerts are now held here.
Jardin des Plantes
Especially on weekdays the Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Gardens) is an idyllic refuge for inhabitants of the capital (entrances at the crossing of Rue Cuvier and Rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilare and at Place Valhubert). Gui de la Brosse, the personal physician of Louis XIII had the park laid out in the 17th century for medical and pharmcological resarch. Here renowned French botanists studied plants such as cacao and tobacco from the colonies and around the year 1900 Antoine Henri Becquerel used a pavillion on Rue Cuvier to study radioactivity. A stroll through the ancient trees – a cedar at the Porte Cuvier was planted as long ago as 1734 – and flowerbeds can be combined with a visit to the greenhouses of the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle. Here multi-media displays and computer simulations bring to life many animals from the gallery of evolution.
Panthéon: Temple of Honor for National Heroes
The lively Rue Mouffetard is a market street with innumerable shops, pubs and restaurants. Especially in the morning and again after 4 o’clock in the afternoon it seems as if everyone in the district is out shopping (it is only quiet on Monday, when there is no market).
The highest point of the Quartier Latin is crowed by the Panthéon, the burial place of great French intellectuals. Actually the huge building, financed by Louis XV, was planned as a church, but it was only finished in 1791, long after his death – right in the middle of the French Revolution – and was thus immediately put to another use than the intended one: here important persons such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Émile Zola, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie are buried in a crypt. From the large dome there is a good view of the Quartier Latin.
The Sorbonne: Intellectual Cradle of Paris
It was not until the year 1215 that the University of Paris was formed out of the many monastic schools and colleges. It then rapidly became the largest and most important institution of its kind in Europe. The oldest “collegium” in which tuition is still given is the Collège de Sainte-Barbe in Rue Valette, which was founded in 1460. The building however dates from the 19th century; Gustave Eiffel was also once a student here.
Many brilliant scholars studied (and study) in the venerable Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and in the Faculté de Droit, the Law Faculty. However the church of Saint-Étienne du Mont , diagonally opposite the back of the Panthéon is more interesting. Behind its Renaissance façade there is a high, light, Gothic interior with the only remaining choir screen in Paris, which served to separate the nave used by the laiety, from the choir used by the clerics.
The embodiment of the Parisian University is the Sorbonne, that large block, which today is still special, and not only because of the uniformed sentries. The building is only one hundred years old, but its site is a witness to 800 years of university history. Markings on the paving of the courtyard show the location of the theological seminary founded by Robert de Sorbon in the 13th century. In May 1968 the student protests took place here, while the police waited outside. This unrest led to the downfall of de Gaulle’s government.
The Boulevard Saint-Michel, an avenue with innumerable fast-food restaurants and inexpensive fashion shops, leads down to the Seine, passing the second group of Roman ruins in the Quartier Latin. The Thermes de Cluny.were so called because in the Middle Ages the Burgundian Abbey of Cluny built its Paris residence, the Hôtel de Cluny, beside the ancient Roman baths. Today you can visit both of these and much more, for the Musée National du Moyen Âge with valuable exhibits from medieval times is also located here. The most splendid exhibit of the museum is a series of tapestries with the title The Lady with the Unicorn, dating from the 15th/16th centuries.
At the northern end of the Boulevard Saint-Michel you should walk down the narrow street parallel to it, Rue Hautefeuille, to get to Place Saint-Michel. On the square there is a committed repertory movie theater which shows a good choice of movies. Not only that, you can also see the remains of the former city palace of the Abbey of Fécamp from the 13th century.
At the end of Rue Hautefeuille is a small square, Place St-André des Arts, where there are several brasseries, cafés and restaurants. You now enter an area strongly marked by tourism – especially Place Saint-Michel0, a bustling square with a fountain, also named Saint-Michel, which depicts the archangel Michael slaying the evil one and in Rue de la Huchette (on the other side of the Boulevard Saint-Michel) where there are Greek tavernas and French restaurants with tourist menus.
Not far from Place Saint-Michel the church of Saint-Séverin, is well worth a visit. It has five aisles, which have additional chapels and it is one of the numerous Parisian churches which are built like the mother church of Paris, Notre-Dame, only on a smaller scale. The double ambulatory of Saint Séverin, with a multitude of pillars, also reflects that of the large cathedral. The former graveyard of the church is a romantic corner, almost idyllically peaceful, in the midst of the city noise.
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