Most visitors to Paris think the Latin quarter is only the myriad of tiny streets lined with kebab shops and Greek restaurants just to the south of Notre Dame. While this area may be fun to see (though I warn against eating here) there is much more to see of the real Latin Quarter.The district got its name thanks to the famous Sorbonne University and the many other religious institutions where only Latin was spoken. The area is still bustling with students, however the use of Latin met its end with the guillotine during the French revolution.
Here’s about an hour’s route to see some real treasures:
From Notre Dame Cathedral cross the River Seine to the south and you’ll see a little garden. A little further along on rue de la Bûcherie is Shakespeare & Company bookshop which is worth popping in. Don’t get lost upstairs and be sure to throw a coin in their mysterious well.
What I really think you should see is the church just behind the garden – Eglise St- Julien le Pauvre. This is one of the oldest churches of Paris, with parts of the current structure dating back to the mid 12th century. At one time, Sorbonne students took lessons here, but their rowdiness finally got them kicked out for good. Peek inside and you’ll find the surprising décor of what is now a Melkite Greek Catholic parish.
Just beside the church are some authentic medieval buildings, a rare site in today’s Paris. Turn right onto rue Galande and you’ll pass the Caveau des Oubliettes, one of the few free live music venues in the area. Everyone has to sit all snug down in the ‘cave’ – but it could be a good chance to meet some real locals.
Cross over the main street, rue du Petit Pont, and you’ll be at the back of Eglise St- Séverin. This Left Bank parish church might look older than Notre Dame due it’s dirty exterior, but most of it is in the late-gothic flamboyant style. Inside check out the beautiful stained glass windows and interesting curved pillars at the back. Once outside, walk along to it’s right side and you’ll see what used to be its medieval cloisters.
Keep going along that street which turns into rue Boutebrie. At number 14 you’ll find a cute little wine-bar called Porte-Pot which has a good selection of none-commercial French wines. Then you’ll come to the big Bvld St Germain, cross over and continue up the little street rue de Cluny. Follow it to the left and you’ll hit the Cluny Museum. This former townhouse of the Abbots of Cluny is one of the only examples of medieval civil buildings in Paris. A visit inside takes you back to the middle-ages, even back to Roman times as the old Roman baths are part of the museum.
The street heading up the hill, rue de la Sorbonne, of course leads to the Sorbonne University. It’s well worth having a look. From the outside you can also see the lovely sculpted façade of its chapel. You may want to stop your walk here with a drink in one of the charming cafes at Place de la Sorbonne or keep going up the hill and finish your walk at the Pantheon.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the area and medieval history, Context Travel Paris offers two intriguing walks in this area: Medieval Life and Society and Medieval Churches of Paris, which include some of the sites in this stroll.
Photo of Eiffel Tower by Hampshiregirl