Visiting the Latin Quarter
A few words of History
When romans invaded Paris (called Lutetia at this time), the city was nothing else than a few houses and churches on what is now called Ile de la Cité (where Notre-Dame is).
As they wanted to create a modern roman city, they chose to extend the city on the south bank of the Seine, along the axe of the main road going to Italy: the Cardo Maximus.
The new center of Lutetia became the roman forum, on the top of the little hill called Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. This is where is the Panthéon nowadays, this monumental church where France has buried its greatest men and women.
There are only two big monuments that remind this glorious past of the city of lights:
– The antic arena, one of the biggest outside Rome at this period
– The public bath house ( Thermes de Cluny)
But lots some streets like rue Mouffetard, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève and rue Saint-Jacques (the famous cardo maximus) were already used by people going in and out of the city in the 2nd century!
Let’s start from Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cité. After crossing the bridge in south direction (on your right when looking at the cathedral), you will see the small Viviani Garden, with an old church. Saint-Nicolas-le-Pauvre built in 1165 which is now a greek church. Notice that in the garden, you’ll see the oldest tree of Paris, planted in 1602! Just a few meters from the garden, the famous English bookshop, Shakespeare and company is a meeting point for English speaking people visiting or living in Paris.
Take the small street of Saint-Nicolas-le-Pauvre and cross the boulevard Saint-Michel (well known, but not really interesting from my point of view) and turn left after Saint-Séverin church.
After crossing boulevard Saint-Germain, you’ll arrive to the Thermes de Cluny, the ancient public bath of 2nd century. Only the cold room is still existing. An abbey has been built to replace ancient building. Today, this building is the middle-ages museum of Paris.
Cross the small park and take the Sorbonne street until you reach the little square de la Sorbonne. This is the most ancient and famous French university. It was created by Robert de Sorbon in XIIth century and rebuilt in the XVIIth century when Cardinal Richelieu was leading the University. Many French historical people studied there (Rabelais, Richelieu, Balzac, Pasteur, Marie Curie…). Don’t hesitate to push doors and go inside!
Continue the street until Rue Souflot and turn left to face the monumental roof of the Pantheon, on the top of the hill. In your back, you will have the Luxembourg garden, for another visit.
This was the place of the Roman Forum, the center of political and social life for romans. Pantheon was originally built in 1757 as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, modelled after the Pantheon in Rome, but after many changes now combines liturgical functions with its role as a famous burial place. 75 great men and women of France are buried there such as: Mirabeau, Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Zola, Jean Jaures, Alexandre Dumas, Jean Moulin, Pierre et Marie Curie…
It is an early example of Neoclassicism, with a façade with columns, surmounted by a large dome.
Take the rue Clothaire on your right, then left in rue de l’Estrapade until the Contrescarpe square.
This is the top of the rue Mouffetard, well known by Parisian and tourists for its market, small cafés, and atmosphere. Turn right on rue Mouffetard. You will find lots of place where you’ll want to stop for a break.
When you’ll be almost at the bottom of the street, take left in rue Daubenton, cross rue Monge, and continue until the entrance gate of the Jardin de plantes. This is one of the 5 great parks of Paris and less visited than Luxembourg or Tuileries, but very interesting. First of all, the garden by itself as a kind of messy part, with a small hill with a pathway you must take to climb to the top.
There are two large old glasshouses with tropical plants.
There’s the oldest zoo of Paris, which a little bit obsolete now, with just some old animals.
But, more interesting, you have also 2 museums, the Paleontology gallery, with skeletons of Dinausor and so many things that kids love. And the Evolution gallery, with quite all the stuffed animals you can find on earth put in situation, with an interesting light and sound show. A must see.
Going out of the garden by rue Liné, you go left until you find the small rue des arenes on your left.
In the middle of the street, you’ll see the gate of a garden. This is an hidden entrance for one of the oldest monument of Paris: the antic Lutetia arena. Theses arenas were very large (15 000 seats) and offer to inhabitants of the antic city gladiators fights and other shows. Unfortunately, a big part of the monument has been buried for centuries when was built the protection wall around Paris. It was almost destroyed but Victor Hugo, leading a small group, manage to save this historical monument. Unfortunately, a portion of the original arena, opposite to the stage, was lost to buildings which line rue Monge
Today you can have a rest in the same place where Gaulois and Romans were seated 2000 years ago, watching kids playing football or people playing petanque.
You can take the way out under buildings to arrive rue Monge. Turn right until you cross the little paved street: rue des Boulangers.
Here you are! Go down for 100 meters and you’ll be arrive at Wine Tasting In Paris! It’s time for you to take a seat and discover fabulous French wines.
If you have enough time after (or before) you can also continue your walking tour by a visit to Arabic World Institute (IMA). It’s a museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions about arabian art, a library, a coffee shop, and a roof top restaurant with an amazing view on Paris, the seine river and Notre-Dame. And guess what? you can have access to the rooftop even if you don’t go to the restaurant. Don’t miss that view!