PARIS — Panthéon

Panthéon is the 5th arrondissement of Paris and is one of the better known districts. It is found on the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) of the River Seine and is commonly known as the ‘Latin Quarter’. The name derives from the fact that the Sorbonne University is located in this district and Latin was the language that medieval students of this university used to speak. The area still has a significant student presence, with several universities and schools of higher education being located here. A lot of the students who used to populate this area have been forced out because of high prices and have had to relocate further out. The area is full of nightlife with its many bistros, cafes and jazz clubs. It is a great place for wandering around its narrow cobblestoned streets where you will find lots of little bookshops as well as street performers to keep you amused. The 5th arrondissement was also the core of ancient Gallo-Roman Paris and here you will still find rare archaeological remains from this period.

The sights found here are:
l’Institut du Monde Arabe
Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air
Jardin des Plantes
Museum of Natural History
The Grande Mosquée de Paris
Arènes de Lutèce
Musée de la Prefecture de Police
Saint-Etienne-du-Mont
Le Panthéon
Musée Curie
Centre de la Mer et des Eaux
Sorbonne
Musée de Cluny
Place Saint-Michel
Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre
Saint-Séverin

l’Institut du Monde Arabe
This institute was established in the 1980s to promote cultural exchange and understanding between France and the Arab world. Here you will find a library and bookshop focusing on the Middle East, and a cafe and gallery which is a replica of a medina selling artefacts from all over the Arab world. There is also a fascinating exhibition centre dedicated to the art and civilisation of the Arab and Islamic world including calligraphy, decorative arts, architecture, and photography as well as religion, philosophy and politics. The collections are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am until 6pm and it costs €6. You can take a tour from Tuesday to Friday at 3.15pm or at 4.30pm on the weekend. The library is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 1pm until 8pm and in July and August from 1pm until 6pm. It is closed on public holidays.
For information about the centre visit the website at: http://www.imarabe.org (in French only)

Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air

Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air
The museum was created in 1980 in the Jardin Tino Rossi to display sculptures from the second half of the 20th century. It stretches for around 600 meters along the Quai Saint-Bernard beside the Jardin des Plantes, between Place Valhubert and Gare d’Austerlitz to just east of Pont de Sully. There are over 50 sculptures and some of the artists are Brâncusi, Gilioli and Cesar. The Museum often holds temporary photographic exhibits. Bicycles can be rented here and it is also a stop for the Batobus. The museum is open 24 hours every day and is a lovely place to stroll through on a sunny day.
For information about the Batobus visit the website at: http://www.batobus.com/english

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes
This popular botanic garden was first established as a royal garden for growing medicinal plants in 1626. It was opened to the public in 1650 and over time it has grown to include a wonderful assortment of plants, flowers, a gazebo and a maze that still exists today. It is around 69 acres and contains a small zoo and the Museum of Natural History.

Museum of Natural History
This museum was formally founded in 1793 during the French Revolution but its origins are from the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants established in 1635. The original purpose of the museum was scientific research and this element lasted for around 100 years until 1891 when the museum returned to an emphasis on natural history. The main attractions of the museum are the Hall of Evolution which is devoted to the evolution of life and the Gallery of Palaeontology with its collection of dinosaurs, giant birds and insects. There is also a Gallery of Mineralogy, with 600 000 minerals, giant crystals and royal precious stones.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.mnhn.fr

Traveller's Tip

Be aware that all the notes in the museum are in French but you are still able to enjoy the displays even if you cannot understand them.

The Grande Mosquée de Paris
This was the first mosque to be built in France and it is also the largest. It was built in 1922 on the site of the former Mercy Hospital to honour the North African countries that had given aid to France during World War I. It is found near the Jardin des Plantes and behind the l’Institut du Monde Arabe. The mosque has a minaret that is 33 metres high, a crisp white exterior and ornately carved woodwork in eucalyptus and cedar wood that adorn the internal courtyards. There are also several small courtyards that have well kept gardens, trees and fountains. Inside the mosque there is a prayer hall, which has an unusual layout that gives it an open and airy feel. You are not allowed in the prayer hall if you aren’t Muslim but you can see other parts of the mosque. Also inside is a tomb for the first Imam of the mosque who hid over two hundred Jews in the basement, saving them from concentration camps when the Nazis were coming to Paris. You can take a tour of the building, its central courtyard, and its Moorish garden and you will be given a brief history of the Islamic faith. There is a cafe decorated in authentic North African style, where you can sit and sip mint tea and eat pastries and a restaurant serving traditional Middle Eastern cuisine.
For information about the Mosque visit the following website at: http://www.mosquee-de-paris.org (in French only)

Arè:nes de Lutèce

Arènes de Lutèce
Long ago Gallo-Roman Paris (then called Lutèce) was a prosperous town stretching from the Île de la Cité to the Left Bank. There are only a few remains of this ancient town and one of these is the Arènes de Lutèce. This spacious amphitheatre dating from the end of the 1st century AD used to have performances of circuses with live animals, sporting events and theatre. The amphitheatre is one of the largest of its kind built by the Romans and seated around 15,000 people. Around the end of the 3rd century the amphitheatre was destroyed and over time it became a cemetery until 1210 when it was filled in. In the 1860s during excavations it was discovered and pressure was placed on authorities to save what was left of it. Over time more of it was uncovered and in time it became a public park and garden. Visitors to the Arènes de Lutèce can see quite a few remains of the amphitheatre including parts of the stage, the niches and the animal cages. The seats you see here today were added by officials in recent times for the comfort of visitors. There are three entrances to the park and these are through Square Capitan, a gate entrance on Rue de Navarre and another on Rue Monge via a passageway.

Traveller's Tip

If you have time after visiting the Arènes de Lutèce you can cross the Rue Monge and climb the elegant staircase to Rue Rollin. This picturesque and popular square is surrounded by cafes and features a fountain at its centre. If you continue down Rue Mouffetard towards St Meédard Square you will come to the famous street market which is open every morning except Monday.

Musée de la Prefecture de Police
This museum of Police history is located in a police station at number 4 Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève. It was originally opened for the 1900 World’s Fair and over the years it has expanded. It now contains evidence, photographs, letters, memorabilia, and drawings about major events in the history of France, famous criminal cases and characters and prisons. Exhibits include a guillotine, uniforms, and relics of the World War II occupation including German machine guns. It is open from Monday to Friday from 9am until 5pm and on Saturday from 10.30am until 5.30pm.
For information about the museum visit the following website at: http://www.prefecturedepolice.interieur.gouv.fr/La-prefecture-de-police/Service-de-la-memoire-et-des-affaires-culturelles/Le-musee-de-la-prefecture-de-police (in French only)

Saint-Etienne-du-Mont

Saint-Etienne-du-Mont
This church is dedicated to St Stephen who was the patron saint of Paris. St Geneviève, who saved Paris from destruction by Attila the Hun, is also venerated here and the area around the church is named the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève after her. The church was built between the mid 16th and early 17th centuries and this is reflected in its Late Gothic-Renaissance architecture. Inside the church is quite magnificent with beautiful stained glass windows but the highlight would have to be the extraordinary rood screen with a marble central section and a spiral staircase at each end. Some famous people have been buried here including Jean Racine and Blaise Pascal.

Traveller's Tip

The church is closed on Mondays in July and August and for quite long periods in the middle of the day. It is best to visit here mid-morning or late afternoon.
Le Panthéon

Le Panthéon
Le Panthéon is located on Montagne Sainte-Geneviève close to the Sorbonne and the Jardin du Luxembourg. The church here was built to replace the ruined Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève following an illness of King Louis XV after a promise he made if he recovered. He did get better and so the foundations for the church were laid in 1758 but it took until 1789 to be completed. This was the beginning of the French Revolution and so the church was turned into a mausoleum for the burial of prominent Frenchmen. Over time it reverted back to a church but it is now once again a mausoleum to the great men of France. The façade of this building is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome with a small dome on top resembling that on St Paul’s in London. The crypt is enormous and there are lots of famous people buried here including Alexandre Dumas, Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie (the only woman), René Descartes and Louis Braille. The Panthéon was also the place where in 1851 the astronomer Jean Bernard Léon Foucault first held his famous experiment, proving that the world spins around its axis. The Foucault pendulum was moved in 1851 to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers.
For information about the Le Panthéon visit the following website at: http://pantheon.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/

Traveller's Tip

Before entering the crypt, note the striking frescoes depicting scenes from St. Geneviève’s life. There are lots of other paintings to see and you should make sure that you pick up the English brochure at the entrance for descriptions of them.
  • From the colonnade around the Panthéon’s dome, you have an excellent view over Paris. For safety issues you can only go up there with a (free) guide at regular hours. For the best view of the Panthéon go to the Jardin du Luxembourg through Rue Soufflot.

    Musée Curie
    This museum was founded in 1934 after the death of Marie Curie. It is located on the ground floor of the Curie Pavilion in the Institut du radium. It was originally the laboratory of Marie Curie when she did research here between 1914 and 1934 and it was here where her daughter and son-in-law discovered artificial radioactivity, for which they received the Nobel Prize of Chemistry in 1935. The museum has a permanent historical exhibition on radioactivity and its applications, notably its use in medicine. It features some of the most important research apparatuses in use before 1940 as well as archives, photographs, documentation on the Curies and the story of radioactivity and oncology. Entrance to the museum is free.
    For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.curie.fr/en/Curie-museum

    Centre de la Mer et des Eaux
    This centre is essentially a museum dedicated to the world of oceans and the role they play in our life on earth. The centre is located in the Institut Océanographie. There are exhibitions that include models and fantastic reconstructions of marine landscapes with plenty of hands-on experiences to make it enjoyable for all the family. There are also aquariums and scale models of different marine features. It is open Tuesdays to Sundays but not on Public Holidays from 10am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 5pm. The cost is around €5 for adults and it is found at 195 Rue St-Jacques.

    Sorbonne
    The Sorbonne which houses several higher education and research institutions such as Panthéon-Sorbonne University, Sorbonne Nouvelle University, Paris-Sorbonne University, Paris Descartes University, the École Nationale des Chartes and the École Pratique des Hautes Études is found in the Latin Quarter. Robert de Sorbon founded a college in 1253 for poor theology students. The pope approved of the idea and it later became the University of Paris. The only remnants of the old college are the traces of the chapel, visible in the Sorbonne courtyard. Cardinal Richelieu was elected president of the Sorbonne in August 1622. He decided to rebuild it and the first stone was laid on March 28, 1627. The Sorbonne Church was begun in 1635, and is the home of Richelieu’s tomb, and Girardon's sculpture of the Cardinal. The Sorbonne was rebuilt again by Nenot in 1883 to provide more room for the increasing demands of students and over time amphitheaters, test rooms, labs, a library with over 2 million works, and an observatory were all added. The Sorbonne has an international reputation that has always placed it among Europe’s most important universities having produced Nobel Prize winners from its faculty and student body, as well as a number of the world’s greatest intellectuals, political theorists, scientists, engineers, doctors, theologians and artists.
    To find out more about the Sorbonne visit the website at: http://www.english.paris-sorbonne.fr/?lang=en

    Musée de Cluny
    This museum also known as the Musée National du Moyen Âge (Museum of the Middle Ages) was established 1843 by the French State to combine the Gallo-Roman Baths and the former mansion — Hôtel de Cluny and to present works of art. The museum houses many notable medieval artefacts such as sculptures from the 7th and 8th centuries, important manuscripts, gold and ivory pieces, and many antique furnishings. There are some beautiful old tapestries as well. The collection is considered one of the best of its kind in Europe. The building that houses the museum is also of note. It was once the residence of the abbots of Cluny who headed the powerful Benedictine order for around 100 years. After this it was occupied by the Bishop of Clermont, Jacques d’Amboise who rebuilt it and this is the building you see today. Other notable people have lived here as well including Mary Tudor who lived here after her husband, Louis X11 died. In 1793 it was taken over by the state and used for many purposes until the art collector, Alexandre de Sommerard moved here with his art collection of Medieval and Renaissance art. He donated this collection to the state after he died and the museum opened soon after. The Gallo-Roman Baths also found here originate from the 3rd century and were found under the mansion but they are only the ruins of the original Baths of Cluny. There are also some gardens which you can visit for free.
    To find out more about the museum visit the website at: http://www.musee-moyenage.fr/ang/index.html

    Place Saint-Michel

    Place Saint-Michel
    This square could be considered the heart of the Latin Quarter and from here you can view several of the monuments of the Île de la Cité including Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie. It is a favourite spot for many of Paris’ younger crowd with its cafes and trendy shops. Place Saint-Michel is the site of the Fontaine Saint-Michel built in 1855-60 and has a statue of the Archangel, Saint Michael slaying a dragon. The fountain is a very popular meeting spot and as such it is always crowded.

    Traveller's Tip

    Be careful around this area because of the crowds it is known for its pickpockets and petty thieves.
  • Just east of the Place Saint-Michel is Rue de la Huchette. This street is connected to the riverside by Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche (Fishing Cat Street) which is a narrow street from medieval Paris as it used to look before Haussmann set to work clearing the way for the boulevards.
    Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

    Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre
    This is one of the oldest churches in Paris and is found just opposite the Notre Dame Cathedral on the opposite bank of the river. The church you see today was built by monks in the 12th century in the Gothic style on the foundations of a much older church from the 6th century. The church was a centre for pilgrims and later a centre of learning until it was dissolved in 1655. The church then came under the authority of the charity hospital of Hôtel Dieu and was used as an annex and church up until the French Revolution when all church property was seized by the state. It was returned to the hospital during the restoration but when the Hôtel Dieu moved to a new location on the Right Bank it was given to the Melchite Order in 1889, a congregation of Eastern Catholics who observe a Byzantine Rite and it still belongs to them.

    Traveller's Tip

    If you look in the courtyard of the church you will see some of the original paving stones from what was once a Roman road but is now Rue St Jacques.
  • In the Viviani Square which the church borders you will find the oldest tree in Paris which was planted in 1620. It has concrete pillars holding it up and it is easy to recognise because it is on a slant. The square is also a great place to view the Notre Dame Cathedral especially to emphasise its size.
    Saint-Séverin

    Saint-Séverin
    The history of this church began in the 6th century when the grandson of King Clovis, Clodoald took holy orders and an oratory was built here. This was then destroyed by the Normans. A chapel was built in the 11th century which was the church of a huge parish that comprised nearly all the southern part of Paris. The oldest parts of the church still remaining are the bell tower and the first three spans of the nave which date back to the 13th century. The rest of the church dates back to the 15th century. The pillars inside the church are magnificent and are a fine example of Gothic architecture.