Paris Travel: The Latin Quarter

Paris Travel: The Latin Quarter

pantheon france

The Latin Quarter, located on the Left Bank, is part of the historic core of Paris and it bears the imprint of  the Sorbonne, its historic core, as well as famous writers and intellectuals from around the world.  Suffice it to say, this is a complex and enormously varied area of Paris.  Latin was once spoken at the Sorbonne and was the common language in this quarter of Paris, which explains its name.The Latin Quarter and surrounding areas offer fabulous cafes and numerous spots for observing the “soul” of Paris, while you rest up before visiting the next spectacular attraction.

The attractions include the Sorbonne. the Pantheon, the Museum of the Middle ages, the Luxembourg Gardens and  the trendy St. Germain-des-Prés area.

The Latin Quarter and surrounding attractions

Although the Latin Quarter remains the heart of the Left Bank, it has lost some of its ambiance and is now an area in transition. It still retains the charm of an academic community and is home to the University of Paris (including the Sorbonne), which dates from the early 13th century. If you need to cross the Seine to reach the Latin Quarter, be sure to take some time to explore the Île de la Cité and its attractions.The Latin Quarter is one of the areas of Paris where you can get whiplash trying soak up all there is to discover. It is as if you were magically dropped into a stew of famous places on streets once walked by important historical figures.  This is an enjoyable area to visit and one that is made so by cafes that will beckon you to take a sojourn from your touring. Somehow being in Paris becomes an excuse to stop every couple of hours for some delectable snack. Life is rough on the road, isn’t it?

Paris Latin Quarter Walking Tour 

The Pantheon
The Pantheon

The Pantheon

(5th arrondissement) (L) – The Pantheon, which  visually dominates the Latin Quarter, started life as a church commissioned by King Louis XV and completed in the late 18th century while the French Revolution was in progress. Loosely modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, the massive, attractive church was built along the plan of a Greek cross and included an extremely large crypt. After the Revolution, the building was put into service as a burial place for the distinguished citizens of France. It is the final resting place for Voltaire, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie and Alexander Dumas among other notable persons.

In addition to its role as a mausoleum, the scientists among you will know that the dome of the Pantheon is where Leon Foucault tested the Foucault Pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth.  The structure is also known for the impressive frescos that were part its original design as a church in honor of St. Genevieve.

The Sorbonne

(5th arrondissement) (L)
The Sorbonne, the University of Paris, is the leading  University in France focused on the Humanities and Classical Studies.  Founded in 1253, students from the Sorbonne have witnessed and participated in much of the history of France.  In the late 19th century the Sorbonne was converted into a single building with a unified architectural theme.

Musée National du Moyen Âge (Musée de Cluny)
Musée National du Moyen Âge (Musée de Cluny) – Photo Credit Marina1305

Musée National du Moyen Âge (Musée de Cluny)

(5th arrondissement) (L)

Occupying the sites of the Franco-Roman baths, which have been preserved, and the Hôtel de Cluny (where the abbots of the Cluny order lived in 15th century Paris), the National Museum of the Middle Ages provides a historical overview of medieval life through the arts, manuscripts, tapestries and everyday objects of the time.   The collection is broader than the Middle Ages, although that era is its focus. The museum is often called the Musée de Cluny since it is located in the Hôtel de Cluny.The  Museum of the Middle Ages has a rich and fascinating collection and we recommend a visit for  those interested in the historical progression from the Dark Ages through the Middle Ages.  Be sure to see the medieval-style  garden. as well as the inner courtyard.

See the Museum’s official website for details on the collection and on visiting.  The National Museum of the Middle Ages – The Baths and Hôtel de Cluny is located at 6, pain Paul Painlevé, 75005 Paris.

Jardins and Palais du Luxembourg

(6th  arrondissement) (L) –
The Luxembourg Gardens are one of the most popular outdoor spots in Paris and  have changed very little since they were created by Marie De Medicis, wife of King Henry IV, in the early 17th century. The Medicis also built the adjoining, gorgeous, Luxembourg Palace, which now houses the French Senate.

The gardens are popular on sunny days and a fine place for an afternoon walk. The area is crowded around noon, as many Parisians lunch in the gardens.  The Grand Bassin, the octagonal pond in the center of the Gardens often has a flotilla of miniature motorized boats cruising its shores. If you or someone you are traveling with would like to participate, you can rent a miniature boat and navigate the waters to your heart’s content.


Saint-Germain-des-Prés – Photo Credit K G

(6th  arrondissement) (L) –  The name Saint-German-des-Prés applies both to the oldest church in Paris and the area that surrounds it. The church was destroyed by the Normans and only the tower remains from the original structure, although the interior is worth a quick walkthrough.

The areas around the Church and along the Boulevard Saint-Germain offer numerous shops, antiques stores, noteworthy restaurants and the Delacroix Museum.

Although there are a number of interesting churches in the area, undue attraction is paid to Saint-Sulpice (16th century), which was featured as a plot element in the Da Vinci Code.  The photo above – right is of the Saint- Sulpice gnomon with its brass line that extends from this monument across the floor of the church.  Although it is granted more sinister motives in Dan Brown’s book, the device was originally built to help the parish priest determine the date of Easter.  The church itself is fairly unremarkable, except for several works by Delacroix.  The church is at the corner of Rue Saint-Sulpice and Place Saint-Sulpice

Near the corner of Rue Bonaparte and the Boulevard Saint-Germain, at 6 Place Saint Germain des Prés, you will find the famous Cafe des Deux Magots (based on a popular play about two Chinese merchants – not maggots).  The café was  the favored establishment of the intellectuals and artists in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.  It was frequented by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir  Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Camus and others of the intelligentsia.  Today, you will likely only see other tourists, as the Deux Magots is a very popular place to see in Paris.  Click here for more information about the restaurant from its official website.

Also nearby, at 172 Boulevard Sainte Germain, is the Cafe de Flore, which is know for its claim as the birthplace of Surrealism and the center of Dadaism, a precursor of modernism, in Paris.  During the 1930’s the Cafe de Flore was a center for writers and philosophers.  See the restaurant’s official website for more details. (The website is in French, so use Google translator if you do not read French.)

Delacroix Museum

The National Museum of Eugène Delacroix is located at 6 Rue de Furstenberg, a few blocks to the east and towards the river.  The museum, which occupies that artist’s former apartment, as well as his studio, contains paintings spanning  Delacroix’s fabled career, his letters and other memorabilia.  Closed Tuesdays, the museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with tickets sold until 4:30.  For more information, see the Museum’s official website.

Although Saint-Germain is experiencing a rebirth and becoming one of the trendiest areas in Paris, it  is still known for its galleries and antique shops.  In addition, the neighborhood is gaining notoriety as one of the top shopping districts for fashion.

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