On the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) you’ll find the lively student area known as the Latin Quarter, so-named a few centuries ago because the students at the Sorbonne were speaking and learning Latin. Winding streets and few wide avenues make for a great walking area. Wandering will reveal cute shops and the remains of a Roman Amphitheater (Paris was once called Lutetia Parisiorum by the Romans. It’s a reference to the swamps beside the Seine. The look has improved over the centuries.
Besides students, the Latin Quarter is all about music. You go down into a cellar for the most part. Maybe that’s where we get the term dive bar? Mostly jazz but definitely pop-up raves as well.
The Latin Quarter area is home to many famous monuments, museums and gardens, ranging from the brand-new Institut du Monde Arabe to the Musee de Cluny, and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Museum of Natural History) in the Jardin des Plantes.
The domed landmark now known as the Pantheon was commissioned around 1750 as an abbey church. Due to financial problems the massive structure wasn’t completed until 1789. Two years later, the Constituent Assembly converted it into a secular mausoleum for the great men of the era of French liberty. Permanent guests of the Pantheon include Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille, Emile Zola, Jean Moulin, René Cassin and Pierre et Marie Curie. The Pantheon’s ornate marble interior is less than cheerful, but you get a great view of the city from around the colonnaded dome, visible from all over Paris.
Address: Place du Panthéon, 5th arrondissement. Open year round from 10 am-6 pm.
Paris’s most famous university, the Sorbonne, was founded in the Latin Quarter in 1253 by Robert de Sorbon, confessor of Louis IX (Saint Louis), as a college for 16 poor theology students.
After centuries as France’s major theological center, it was closed in 1792 by the Revolutionary government but was reopened under Napoleon. Today, the Sorbonne’s main complex (bounded by Rue de la Sorbonne, Rue des Ecoles, Rue Saint Jacques and rue Cujas) and other buildings in the vicinity house several of the 13 autonomous universities created when the Université de Paris was reorganized following the violent student protests in 1968.
Place de la Sorbonne links Blvd Saint Michel with Chapelle de la Sorbonne, the University’s domed church, which was built between 1635 and 1642. It is closed except for special exhibitions. Visit the Sorbonne online for more information.
Musée de Cluny (musée du Moyen Age):
This crenelated building was the Paris home of the medieval abbots of Cluny. It was built on the ruins of a Gallo-Roman baths complex, which is now partly restored.
The museum houses an exceptional collection of artifacts, including the celebrated “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, medieval statuary, enamels, ivory, fabrics, illuminated manuscripts and precious metalwork.
Address: 6 place Paul Painlevé, 5th. Phone 43 25 62 00. Open Mon, Wed-Sun 9:15am – 5.45pm.
Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Museum of Natural History):
Within the Jardin des Plantes botanical garden, the reopened Grande Galerie de l’Evolution has taken Paris’s Natural History Museum out of the dinosaur age, with the latest lighting and audiovisual techniques. An extensive fossil and geology collection are housed in a separate building.
Address: 57 rue Cuvier, 5th. Phone : 40 79 30 00. open Mon, Wed, Fri-Sun 10am-6pm; Thur 10am-10pm.
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