Ready for a Walk in the Latin Quarter of Paris?
This area is home to the atmospheric Saint-Germain-des-Prés quartier and the exquisite Luxembourg Gardens
With its world-famous cityscape, deeply rooted intellectual tradition, prestigious history, beautiful architecture, and central location, the arrondissement has long been home to French intellectuals. It is a major locale for art galleries and fashion stores and one of the most fashionable districts of Paris as well as Paris’ most expensive area.
This walk begins in the Jardin des Plantes, whose entrance is close to the Gare d’Austerlitz metro station on lines 5 and 10. Be sure you take the rue Buffon-Jardin des Plantes exit. Once on the street level head straight a few steps then cross a street and turn left into the garden when you see the mammoth in front of the Musée d’histoire naturelle, at 2, rue Buffon.
Walk towards the central part of the garden, beginning your walk just in front of the gates to the garden, from where you’ll have a great perspective of the square planted plots of land framed by two double rows of plane trees leading to the magnificent steel and glass structure of the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution at the other end of the garden.
1. Jardin des Plantes – 2, rue Buffon
First opened to the public in 1640, the visitor today could spend a day visiting the gardens, botanical greenhouses, Great Galerie of Evolution, the Zoo, (Menagerie), maze, Alpine gardens, and other sites of this institution dedicated to education and research in natural history. In front of you stretch flowerbeds blooming with tulips, narcissus, pansies, or primroses in April, which give way to in May to summer plantings of cannas, dahlias, abutilons, fuchsias and others which peak in late summer.
Every plant is meticulously labeled. To explore some of what the garden has to offer, walk about halfway down the garden, then turn right off the main square of the garden when you reach the first of three greenhouses. Stroll down the path in between the greenhouse and the garden of the School of Botany on your right, which showcases over 4 500 plants classified by genus or family, medicinal or economic significance. Just after the greenhouse turn left and head towards the labyrinthe and its gazebo, then the first left. On your right you should see a magnificent cedar of Lebanon planted in 1734. From the 18th-century gazebo, you’ll have a commanding view of the garden, and on your way up you’ll see a Cretan maple tree from 1702, a bur oak, a chestnut-leaved oak, yews, and nettle trees.
This walk in the Latin Quarter of Paris continues at the Great Mosque of Paris. From the gazebo, retrace your steps down the hill make a right at the cedar tree to take the path between two greenhouses, walk past the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, turn right and exit the garden. You’ll be at 36, rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. The Grande Mosquée is directly across the street from where you are. Cross the rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and enter the courtyard of the Mosque.
2. The Great Mosque of Paris
39, rue Geoffroy St.-Hilaire. The Grande Mosquée de Paris (‘Great Mosque of Paris’) is the largest mosque in France and the second largest in Europe. It was founded after World War I as a sign of France’s gratefulness to the Muslim tirailleurs from the colonies who fought against Germany. Built according to the mudéjar style, its minaret soars 33 meters into the Paris sky. Going through the massive oak doors decorated with eucalyptus wood and bronze studs takes the visitor to the Cour d’honneur, a beautiful andalusian courtyard inspired by the hispano-moresque gardens of Andalusia and the former residences of lords of northern Africa. You can sip a cup of mint tea and munch on an oriental pastry on the marble terrace and listen to the tinkle of water running through the fountains, pools, waterfalls. Guided tours of the Mosque are available, and the Mosque also features a restaurant and Turkish bath, or ‘hammam’.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at the Saint-Médard Church. Walk down rue Daubenton aways. As you walk along the the walls of the mosque, you may see steam coming from windows of the hammam. At the intersection cross rue Monge and continue down rue Daubenton. Take a left onto rue de Condolle. Turn right onto rue Censier and take an immediate right into the square Saint-Médard, a small park that runs alongside the church.
3. St. Médard Church
141, rue Mouffetard. If walking past this church you get a case of the shivers, turn yourself in at the nearest police station. Back in 1727, the death of fervent Jansenist François de Pâris literally created a frenzy. His monolithic black marble headstone in the church’s cemetary became the meeting place for his admirers and friends, which developed into a cult whose members experienced wonderful visions, even miracles, though convulsions.
The Convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard and their collective hallucinations soon got out of hand, and Louis XV eventually closed the cemetary and stationed guards outside. The sign posted outside the cemetary warned,’By order of the King, God is forbidden to perform miracles in this place’. The St. Médard church has officially existed since 1163, the same year the first stone of Notre Dame cathedral was laid. Its current architectural elements are a mixture from the 15th-20th centuries.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues with a stroll on rue Mouffetard. Turn right out of the Square Saint-Médard and head up the rue Mouffetard.
4. Rue Mouffetard – 127, rue Mouffetard.
You’re walking on part of the old Roman road leading to Italy via Lyon. The street’s name comes from the word Moffettes, used to describe the putrid odeurs exuded from the Bièvre river, which joins the Seine in the here in the 5th quarter, and the stench from the tanning, animal skinning, and tripe-selling activities around the river in the 13th century. The Bièvre river still exists, though is nowadays buried in tunnels for its whole course through Paris. The rue Mouffetard runs 605 meters through the Latin Quarter of Paris, and serves the neighborhood as a delightful pedestrian-friendly main street, undoubtedly one of the most picturesque in Paris. Its open air market, shops, cafés, restaurants, and clubs keep this beloved street lively day and night, except on Monday, when many shops are closed.
5. Passage des Patriarches – 99, rue Mouffetard.
Don’t miss this passage, whose modern aspect and street art contrast sharply with the old homes at 86 and 88 rue Mouffetard, as well as the old homes at 73,74, 78, and 79 rue Mouffetard. The Latin Quarter Walk continues at the Pot-de-Fer fountain at 60, rue Mouffetard.
6. Pot-de-Fer fountain – 60, rue Mouffetard.
To ensure the water supply of her future Luxembourg palace, Marie de Médicis ordered repairs to the Arcueil gallo-roman aqueduct. Water then flowed into 14 fountains on the left bank, including this one, put into use in 1624.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at 53, rue Mouffetard.
7. Buried treasure – 53, rue Mouffetard.
While demolishing the building here in 1938 workers unearthed a treasure hidden by Louis Nivelle, royal squire, advisor and sécretaire of King Louis XV, which consisted of 3,351 gold coins stamped with the head of Louis XV.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at place de la Contrescarpe.
8. Place de la Contrescarpe
This place has been a lively intersection and meeting place since 1200 when Philippe Auguste opened up a door (porte Bordelles) in his nearby wall to link Paris to the St-Médard suburb of Paris. The domestic servants, chair-bearers, mounts (horses), loitering people, cabarets and public disorder of old have been replaced by restaurants and cafés from which law-abiding locals and tourists observe the happenings of the quarter. The square holds an important place in the history of the French language and literature: members of the Pléaide group, whose goal was the literary renewal and revolution of French, met at the Pomme de Pin cabaret in the 16th century. Today La Pléaide also refers to the collection of major literary works, mostly French, published by Editions Gallimard. More than 500 books have been published in the series, and this Bibliothèque de la Pléaide inspired an American offshoot, the Library of America series, which has published some 200 literary works and since 1979.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at 6, rue Mouffetard.
9. Former butcher shop – 6, rue Mouffetard
The two 18th-century steers in low relief on the façade about the Lebanese restaurant remind us that this was once a butcher shop.
After Place de la Contrescarpe, la rue Mouffetard becomes rue Descartes. The Latin Quarter Walk continues at the former site of the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique. Walking down the rue Descartes you’ll catch glimpses of the Panthéon with its dome and columns, and the back of the St.-Etienne du Mont church. Continue to 5 rue Descartes.
10. École Polytechnique – 5, rue Descartes.
Founded in 1794 and transferred here in 1805, the Ecole Polytechnique remains the most prestigious engineering school in France. Instruction at this site was in French, which was still relatively new in 1805. Up until the French Revolution classes at all the institutions in the area were conducted in Latin. The spoken language disappeared, but the name endured, which explains why the area is called the Latin Quarter.
The Ecole Polytechnique occupied the sites of three much older institutions, the first being le collège de Navarre, founded in 1304 where ‘boursiers’, or students on scholarships studied of grammar, theology, logic, and philosophy, le collège de Boncourt founded in 1353, and le collège de Tournai founded around 1283. Unfortunately very little of these structures survived, most of the buildings are modern. The Ecole Polytechnique later moved to a campus outside Paris in 1976.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at Les Pipos, a wine bar and bistro at 2 rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique, directly across from the entrance to the former Ecole Polytechnique.
11. Les Pipos restaurant – 2, rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique.
This neighborhood bistro offers relief from the tourist traps of the Latin Quarter with its rustic wines, free-flowing conversation, red/white checked tablecloths and typical French dishes: andouillette, boeuf bourguignon, Auvergne ham and sausages, and cheese. The name ‘pipo’ is slang which designated a student of the Ecole Polytechnique, the most prestigious of France’s Grandes Ecoles, though today a student is referred to as an X, or an Xette. Perhaps because today pipo means ‘a load of bull’?
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at Collège St.-Barbe at 4, rue Valette. From Les Pipos, walk up the rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève to rue Laplace. You’ll have a view of the Saint-Etienne du Mont church before taking a right onto rue Laplace. Walk to the end of rue Laplace and take a left onto rue Valette. The Collège St.-Barbe is right across the street at 4, rue Valette.
12. Collège St.-Barbe – 4, rue Valette.
Built in 1460 on a street opened in the 11th century, this collège holds the record as the oldest public teaching establishment in France, and the sole survivor of all the educational institutions once located on the St. Geneviève ‘mountain’. Famous students include the founder of the Jesuits Ignatius de Loyola, structural engineer Gustave Eiffel, and writer Charles Péguy.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues on rue Lanneau. At the intersection of rue Valette and rue Lanneau take a left.
13. Rue de Lanneau
Today the boulevard Saint-Michel and surrounding streets a stone’s throw from La Sorbonne hustle and bustle the most in the Latin Quarter with a teeming mix of cafés, restaurants and bookstores. Surprisingly enough, the rue de Lanneau was the scolastic and social heart of the Latin Quarter at more than one point in history. Fourteen bookstores lined this short street in 1571, probably due to the proximity of the numerous collèges. A quiet passage today, it was the busiest and noisiest of the area in the 16th century. Construction work and renovations underneath the rue Lanneau and impasse Chartière uncovered 7 rectangular rooms from Roman baths dating from the time of Marcus Aurelius, around 170 A.D. Along with the Thermes de Cluny, these baths represent the principal Roman baths of left-bank Lutèce.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at the former Collège Coqueret, at 11, impasse Chartière. Walk along rue Lanneau and take a left into impasse Chartière. Head to number 11.
14. Le Collège de Coqueret – 11, impasse Chartière.
Former collège where members of the Pléaide poets strove to liberate the French language from the bonds of Latin. The members: Dorat, Ronsard, Antoine de Baïf, Joachim de Bellay, Jodelle, Rémy Belleau, and Pontus de Thiard. Ronsard, page of the Duc D’Orléans and third son of King François 1er headed the group, whose literary theories prompted Joachim de Bellay to pen ‘Défence et Illustration de la Langue Française’ in 1549, in which he outlined that French should attain the perfection of Greek and Latin, and cease to be perceived as a barbaric language to the foreign ear.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at the Collège de France. Turn around and walk down the impasse Chartière, then take the 1st left into the place Marcellin Berthelot. Go to 11, place Marcellin Berthelot.
15. Le Collège de France – 11, place Marcellin Berthelot
Built on the site of roman ruins on the order of the visionary King François 1er, the Collège de France opened its doors in 1530. Today the collège is an important teaching and research institution for the arts and sciences. Courses are free and open to the public.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at the Musée de Cluny. From place Marcellin Berthelot walk down the staircase in front of the Collège de France and turn left to walk down rue des Ecoles to place Paul Painlevé. Enter the Square Paul Painlevé, a small park with a view of the Musée de Cluny. Behind you is one of the buildings of the university of Paris – La Sorbonne. Cross the square to enter the courtyard of the museum at 6, place Paul Painlevé.
16. Musée National du Moyen Age – 6, place Paul Painlevé
The National Museum of the Middle Ages houses a collection of art and artifacts from the Middle Ages, including the remarkable Lady and the Unicorn series of tapestries. The extensive collections occupy two Parisian monuments: the 15th century Cluny abbey and the Gallo-Roman baths from 1st-3rd centuries AD. If you don’t plan on visiting the collections, take a moment to admire the lacey, intricate stonework over niches, windows and doors, and gargoyles in the courtyard of the hôtel de Cluny, and don’t miss a view of the roman baths on the other side of the museum.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues in the place de la Sorbonne. Turning right out of the courtyard of the Musée de Cluny and walk towards the busy boulevard St. Michel, admiring the roman baths of the Musée de Cluny as you go. Turn left onto boulevard St. Michel and walk up the street a few blocks to the place de la Sorbonne.
17. La Sorbonne – 1, rue Victor Cousin
Robert, born a humble peasant in the village of Sorbon, became a man of science and theology. He earned the favors of King Saint Louis, who gave Robert a number of properties for the college. The Sorbonne opened its doors in 1254 for the study of theology by secular students. La Sorbonne gained importance over the centuries, and by the revolution was the center of theological studies and the headquarters of the public University of Paris. La Sorbonne today counts 13 colleges, 4 of which maintain facilities in the historical building of the college. Today La Sorbonne evokes the image of the historical building and chapel, emblems of the Latin Quarter.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues in the Luxembourg gardens. Turning left out of place de la Sorbonne head up the boulevard St. Michel and walk up the street a few blocks, pausing at the corner of boulevard St. Michel and rue Soufflot to contemplate the Panthéon, the resting place of France’s great men and women. Finally, cross the boulevard St.-Michel and enter the Luxembourg gardens. The closest entrance is in front of the RER station.
18. Luxembourg gardens – 2, rue Auguste Comte.
Parisians, tourists, members of the Senate, children, there’s something for everyone in Paris’s largest park, which still feels like a local park. You’ll see children playing in a fenced-in playground, tennis matches, students soaking up the sun in the countless green iron chairs, tourists admiring the Senate and Lenôtre’s octagonal pool in front, lovers strolling by the Médicis fountain, and so on. We have Marie de Médicis to thank for the Luxembourg gardens. In the early 17th century dreamed of building a residence and gardens reminiscent of her native Florence in a place removed from the political intrigues of the Louvre. What would she think of her garden today: the French Senate in her home, six tennis courts, two pétanque (bowls) courts, a basketball court, more than a hundred statues, a pear and apple orchard, a puppet theater, museum, chess games, fenced-in playground, donkey rides, beehives, and more. She might just keel over in shock.
The Latin Quarter Walk continues at Pierre Hermé’s Jewelry Shop Pâtisserie. Exit the Luxembourg gardens by the exit next to the Luxembourg Museum, most easily accessed by walking around the Senate palace and along the tree-lined path to the Luxembourg Museum. Turn left out of the gardens onto rue du Vaugirard. Walk until you reach rue Bonaparte, and take a right. Walk past the St. Sulpice church and its fountain to Pierre Hermé’s pastry shop at 72, rue Bonaparte.
19. Pierre Hermé’s Pastry Shop – 72, rue Bonaparte.
No one can have just one of Pierre Hermé’s creations, which, though heavily mediatized, truly are some of the most creative works in pastry and chocolate confection of our day. Pick your favorite of macarons, those crisp cookie shells encasing tender interiors of chocolate/passionfruit, caramel, vanilla, and a host of other flavors of Monsieur Hermé’s latest inspiration. Or will you succomb to his chocolates, cakes, jams or croissants? Whatever you choose, you are guaranteed to leave his shop feeling inspired.
You’ve reached the end of the Latin Quarter Walk. The nearest metro station is the St-Sulpice station on line 4. Continue along rue Bonaparte and turn left onto rue du Vieux Colombier. The metro station is a short walk from this point.