Guide Tour of the Sorbonne district, Paris, France

The Sorbonne district is the 20th administrative district of Paris located in the 5th arrondissement, near the Luxembourg Gardens and the Sorbonne faculty on the Sainte-Geneviève mountain. This is the district of the great Parisian schools and prestigious institutes located within the Latin Quarter. Known for its student life, lively atmosphere, and bistros, the Sorbonne district is the home to a number of higher education establishments. Away from the big-ticket attractions of the City of Lights, engage more deeply with its rich, incomparable history.

The Sorbonne district is linked to the Latin District, forming its historical centre. The latter takes its name from the classes that were given there exclusively in the Latin language. Even today, this neighbourhood is still a popular place for students. Indeed, there are many establishments there, including secondary schools, high schools and prestigious universities in addition to reputable bookshops specialising in various disciplines to enable all students to find the books they want.

The Sorbonne district around the old Sorbonne University, was a center of effervescent knowledge, host to a significant student population and witness to the capital’s lifestyle during the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The area’s many cafés and restaurants are laid-back and welcoming; they are filled with Parisians, students and tourists. A historic center of learning, scholarship, and artistic achievement in Paris, The Latin Quarter’s mystique is well-merited with a fascinating heart of this beloved neighborhood.

The Sorbonne district make the whole an extremely touristic sector. Thanks to its picturesque streets, its emblematic monuments is an unmissable when visiting Paris. Still home to the most prestigious schools, universities, and higher education establishments in Paris, the neighborhood is also home to the Pantheon. The monument sits atop the Sainte Genevieve hill, overlooking the lively streets full of bars and restaurants that lead north to the river Seine and east to the Jardin des Plantes.

In medieval times, the various “schools” of the University of Paris were located in this area and are the origin of the name “Latin Quarter”. The college founded by Robert de Sorbon, later called the “Sorbonne”, dates from 1257. However, it should be noted that the Sorbonne, the oldest, no longer exists, since French universities no longer teach theology. The Sorbonne University was suspended for a time, and the currently operating Sorbonne University was reopened in 2018. The original diocese of the old Sorbonne University, now under the jurisdiction of different schools, has been re-run by merging with these educational institutions.

There are several attractions to visit, among them the Pantheon, the Musée National du Moyen-Âge, the Luxembourg gardens and museum and the Arènes de Lutèce. As you stroll through the district you will also come across the Sorbonne, the best known university in Paris; the Collège de France, the Lycée Henri IV, the shopping streets Rue Mouffetard and Rue Monge and the charming Place de la Contrescarpe. The district also has popular show venues like the Paradis Latin, the Théâtre de l’Odéon and the Caveau de la Huchette.

Student quarter
It is a district that is still very popular with students and teachers, due to the presence of numerous higher education and research establishments. Several establishments are based in the historical building of the Sorbonne (Chancellerie des universities, Panthéon-Sorbonne University, Sorbonne University, Sorbonne-Nouvelle University), the university centers of the Panthéon and Assas, the Jussieu campus (Sorbonne University), the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University, Paris-Cité University, the Collège de France – PSL University, the Sainte-Geneviève Library of Sorbonne-Nouvelle, the Sorbonne Interuniversity Library and theResearch House.

The district also has many colleges and high schools, often prestigious and historic: Louis-le-Grand, Fénelon, Henri-IV, Saint-Louis, Notre-Dame de Sion, Stanislas, École alsacienne, Montaigne, Lavoisier.

Sorbonne University
Sorbonne Université is a public research university located in Paris, France, established by the merger of Paris-Sorbonne University and Pierre et Marie Curie University, along with smaller institutions. The institution’s legacy reaches back to 1257 when Sorbonne College was established by Robert de Sorbon as part of the medieval University of Paris.Sorbonne University is now one of the most prestigious universities in Europe and the world.

Founded by Robert de Sorbon in the 13th century, it the old Sorbonne Université initially devoted to theology. Today, it includes several universities as well as the headquarters of various institutions (including the chancellery of Paris universities, the Sorbonne Observer or the Sorbonne Library). All of its buildings are listed as historical monuments since 1975, while its chapel and its Grand Amphithéâtre (main amphitheatre) were classified as historical monuments in 1887 and 1975 respectively.

Sorbonne University’s historical campus is in the historic central Sorbonne building, located at 47 rue des Écoles, in the Latin Quarter. The building is the undivided property of the 13 successor universities of the University of Paris, managed by the Chancellerie des Universités de Paris. Besides the monuments of the Cour d’honneur, the Sorbonne Chapel and the Grand amphitéâtre, the building houses the Academy of Paris Rectorat, the Chancellerie des Universités de Paris, part of the universities Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, Sorbonne University, University of Paris and the École Nationale des Chartes as well as the École pratique des hautes études that are constituent schools of PSL University.

Before the 19th century, the Sorbonne occupied several buildings. The chapel was built in 1622 by the then-Provisor of the University of Paris, Cardinal Richelieu, during the reign of Louis XIII. In 1881, politician Jules Ferry decided to convert the Sorbonne into one single building. Under the supervision of Pierre Greard, Chief Officer of the Education Authority of Paris, Henri-Paul Nénot constructed the current building from 1883 to 1901 that reflects a basic architectural uniformity. The integration of the chapel into the whole was also Nénot’s work with the construction of a cour d’honneur. The Sorbonne building is generally reserved for undergraduate students in their third year and graduate students in certain academic disciplines. Only students in Semitic studies, regardless of level, take all their classes at the Sorbonne campus.

The Library of the Sorbonne is an inter-university library of the universities Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, Sorbonne University, University of Paris, under the administration of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne. It is open exclusively to undergraduate students in their third year and graduate students. With the former archives of the now-defunct University of Paris, 2,500,000 books, 400,000 of them ancient, 2,500 historical manuscripts, 18,000 doctoral dissertation papers, 17,750 past and current French and international periodicals and 7,100 historical printing plates, the Library of the Sorbonne is the largest university library in Paris and was entirely refurbished in 2013.

Collège de France
The Collège de France, formerly known as the Collège Royal or as the Collège impérial founded in 1530 by François I, is a higher education and research establishment (grand établissement) in France. It is located in Paris, in the heart of the Latin Quarter, across the street from the historical campus of La Sorbonne, near the Panthéon.

Research and teaching are closely linked at the Collège de France, whose ambition is to teach “the knowledge that is being built up in all fields of literature, science and the arts”. It offers high-level courses that are free, non-degree-granting and open to all without condition or registration. This gives it a special place in the French intellectual landscape.

Sainte-Barbe College
The Sainte-Barbe college was a Parisian educational establishment founded in 1460 on the Sainte-Geneviève mountain and located rue Valette. Until June 1999, when it closed, it was the “oldest” college in Paris. Its buildings, refurbished by Louis-Ernest Lheureux (1827-1898) and rehabilitated by Antoine Stinco, house the Sainte-Barbe library, an inter-university library, as well as one of the university centers of the Panthéon-Assas university.

Louis-le-Grand high school
The Lycée Louis-le-Grand is a public Lycée (French secondary school, also known as sixth form college) located on rue Saint-Jacques in central Paris. It was founded in the early 1560s by the Jesuits as the Collège de Clermont, was renamed in 1682 after King Louis XIV (“Louis the Great”), and has remained at the apex of France’s secondary education system despite its disruption. It offers both a high school curriculum, and a Classes Préparatoires post-secondary-level curriculum in the sciences, business and humanities.

The strict admission process is based on academic grades, drawing from middle schools (for entry into high school) and high schools (for entry into the preparatory classes) throughout France. Its educational standards are highly rated and the working conditions are considered optimal due to its demanding recruitment of teachers. Louis-Le-Grand’s students, occasionally referred to as magnoludoviciens, regularly top national rankings for baccalauréat grades (high school) and entry into the grandes écoles (preparatory classes). It has cultivated three presidents and nine prime ministers of the Fifth Republic pass through its benches, as well as 8 Nobel Prize winners.

Sainte-Geneviève Library
Sainte-Geneviève Library (French: Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève) is a public and university library located at 10, place du Panthéon, across the square from the Panthéon, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. It is based on the collection of the Abbey of St Genevieve, which was founded in the 6th century by Clovis I, the King of the Franks.

The collection of the library was saved from destruction during the French Revolution. A new reading room for the library, with an innovative iron frame supporting the roof, was built between 1838 and 1851 by architect Henri Labrouste. It occupies a building erected in 1851 by the architect Henri Labrouste on the site of the former college of Montaigu, since enlarged and classified, with its original fittings and decorations, as historical monuments.

Sainte-Geneviève Library is the heiress of the third most important library in Europe, in its time, the former Sainte-Geneviève abbey in Paris. The library contains around 2 million documents, and currently is the principal inter-university library for the different branches of University of Paris. Its collections are encyclopaedic and total approximately two million volumes.

Main Attractions
The Sorbonne district is one of the historic cradles of Paris which brings together many witnesses of its history. Among the most remarkable are the Arènes de Lutèce, a Gallo-Roman amphitheater built in the 1st century and the oldest vestiges of the city, the ancient baths adjoining the museum of the Middle Ages installed in the magnificent Hôtel de Cluny, dating from the 13th century and finally on the Sainte-Geneviève mountain, the monumental Pantheon, tomb of all the great people of the Nation.

In the heart of the Latin Quarter, dates back to the Middle Ages, when the masters provided their teaching and knowledge to students only in the Latin language. You can discover prestigious universities there such as the Sorbonne (where Cardinal Richelieu rests), the Collège de France and the high schools of Louis Le Grand and Henri IV.

Traced on an old Roman road that led to Italy via Lyon, rue Mouffetard is one of the oldest streets in Paris. An quite touristy address, which has preserved nevertheless many traces of the past and deserves a stroll, from the pretty place of the Contrescarpe to the church Saint-Médard.

The Panthéon is a monument in the Latin Quarter of Paris, France. It stands in the Latin Quarter, atop the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, in the centre of the Place du Panthéon, which was named after it. It was conceived by Louis XV as a grand neo-classical church honouring St. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. After the Revolution, the building was converted into a mausoleum for the great philosophers, military, artists, scientists, and heroes of the French Republic. Occupants of the crypt include Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Zola, the Curies, and Alexandre Dumas (reinterred here in 2002).

The architecture of the Panthéon is an early example of Neoclassicism, surmounted by a dome that owes some of its character to Bramante’s Tempietto. The view from the dome is marvellous. The successive changes in the Panthéon’s purpose resulted in modifications of the pedimental sculptures and the capping of the dome by a cross or a flag; some of the originally existing windows were blocked up with masonry in order to give the interior a darker and more funereal atmosphere, which compromised somewhat Soufflot’s initial attempt at combining the lightness and brightness of the Gothic cathedral with classical principles. In 1851, Léon Foucault conducted a demonstration of diurnal motion at the Panthéon by suspending a pendulum from the ceiling, a copy of which is still visible today.

Church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
Saint-Étienne-du-Mont is a church in Paris, on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève in the Latin Quarter, near the Panthéon. It contains the shrine of St. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. St. Geneviève was responsible for saving Paris from the Huns in 451 and her shrine in the church has been a popular place of pilgrimage ever since. The church as it stands dates from between 1492 and 1626 and is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. A unique feature is the Renaissance rood screen, the sole survivor in the city. The church also contains the tombs of Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine. Jean-Paul Marat is buried in the church’s cemetery.

The west front or facade of the church, in the Renaissance style and in the form of an elongated pyramid of three levels, was built in 1610 following the plan of Charles Guerin. The lowest level is covered with sculpture, and is topped by a triangular classical fronton, with a bas-relief depicting the Resurrection of Christ. The central feature of the level above is a Gothic rose window, under a curvilinear fronton, decorated with sculpture depicting the coat of arms of France and those of the old Abbey. On the top level, the triangular gable features an elliptical rose window.

The interior is a that of a hall church of large proportions, sixty-nine meters long and 25.5 meters wide. The collateral aisles on either side of the nave and choir are unusually high, and have large windows, filling the church with light. The interior of the church combines Flamboyant Gothic architecture, including elaborate rib vaults with hanging keystones, alongside elements of Italian Renaissance decoration, such as classical columns and arcades, and an abundance of sculpted heads of angels integrated into the architecture.

Church of Saint-Séverin
Église Saint-Séverin is a Roman Catholic church in the Latin Quarter of Paris, located on the lively tourist street Rue Saint-Séverin. It is one of the oldest churches that remains standing on the Left Bank, and it continues in use as a place of worship. It was on this burial ground that the first recorded surgery for gallstones was performed in 1451 by Germanus Collot.

The church’s external features include some fine gargoyles and flying buttresses. Its bells include the oldest one remaining in Paris, cast in 1412; their ringing is recalled in a well known poem in praise of Paris by Alan Seeger. There is a flamboyant rose window above the west entrance. The large Gothic portal under the bell tower was transferred from the church of St-Pierre-aux-boeufs which was demolished to create a new street. Its relief depicts St. Martin dividing his cloak.

Internal features of the church include both ancient stained glass and a set of seven modern windows by Jean René Bazaine (1970), inspired by the seven sacraments of the Catholic church, around the ambulatory. The deambulatory also includes an unusual pillar in the form of the trunks of a palm tree, that brings to mind the Apprentice Pillar at Rosslyn Chapel. The construction of the marble choir was made possible by donations from Anne, Duchess of Montpensier, a cousin of Louis XIV. The organ is signed Jean Ferrand.

Musée de Cluny
The Musée de Cluny is a museum of the Middle Ages in Paris, France. It is located in the Latin quarter in the Latin Quarter of Paris at 6 Place Paul-Painlevé. The Hôtel de Cluny is partially constructed on the remnants of the third century Gallo-Roman baths known as the Thermes de Cluny, thermal baths from the Roman era of Gaul. The museum consists of two buildings: the frigidarium (“cooling room”), within the vestiges of the Thermes de Cluny, and the Hôtel de Cluny itself, which houses its collections. The frigidarium is about 6,000 square meters. The museum houses a vast collection of objects and art from the Middle Ages. Among the principal holdings of the museum are the six tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame à la licorne).

Shakespeare and Company
Fans of English literature will not fail to push the doors of the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore with its incomparable charm. Shakespeare & Company, opened in 1951 by consummate Parisian beatnik George Whitman. Originally opened as “Le Mistral,” this is not the original shop in Paris. George Whitman renamed it in 1964, in honor of the legendary bookshop opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 just down the street. Under Beach’s helm, the first shop was famous for hosting and publishing literary greats such as James Joyce. The more recent location is still a literary epicenter, browse both new and classic titles gracing the shop’s narrow, uneven shelves and carefully curated tables.

Public spaces
The Sorbonne neighbourhood has many green spaces as well as numerous gardens and green bunkers. However, due to its location in the historic old town, the planning of the Sorbonne district is relatively chaotic. Except for the square outside the Pantheon, well-known blocks and small public spaces are hidden between narrow lanes extending in all directions, which gives a unique sense of mystery and the illusion of being away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Sorbonne Place
Place de la Sorbonne is a street located in the Sorbonne district of the 5th arrondissement of Paris The square is bordered by several booksellers, printers, cafes and restaurants. The street artist Invader realized in 2018 an intervention on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of May.

The western facade of the Sainte-Ursule de la Sorbonne chapel (17th century) closes the perspective of the square between the streets of the Sorbonne and Victor-Cousin. On either side of this façade are the side entrances which give access to the Sorbonne University. The one on the left still bears the inscription École nationale des chartes, founded in 1821 and housed within the Sorbonne until its move, in 2014, to the “Quadrilatère Richelieu”.

No.1 to 3: buildings constructed from 1838 on part of the site of the former chapel of the College of Cluny. Founded in 1269, this college was seized during the Revolution and gradually dismantled in the years 1823 to 1866. Its chapel disappeared in 1833.

No.3: the café L’Écritoire, where the lyricist Étienne Roda-Gil and the singer Julien Clerc met, probably in the spring of 1967.

No. 6: the J. Vrin Philosophical Bookstore has been located here since 1911. The Monument to Auguste Comte, sculpted by Jean-Antoine Injalbert, was inaugurated there in 1902 in the center of the square, before being moved near the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

From March to August 2000, a preventive archaeological excavation site, prior to a new redevelopment of the square, led to the discovery of remains of two houses from the 1st century AD, a cellar from the 3rd century and a short section of Roman road.

Square Paul Painlevé
This square is bordered by two historic buildings: the former Hôtel de Cluny which dates from the 15th century and the Palais des Thermes which dates back to Antiquity. These two buildings make up the Cluny Museum which houses the famous medieval tapestry of “La Dame à La Licorne”.

The Sorbonne district has a good number of good gourmet addresses. Café Soufflot adopt the attitude of the Parisian thinkers which beautiful effect alongside philosophy, taste intellectual with a black coffee on the sometimes sunny terrace. The Istanbul Kehribar mixes the ecstasy of the kebab with the atmosphere of a good restaurant. Enjoy Turkish and Mediterranean dishes for lunch and dinner. The Piano Vache hosts a free gypsy jazz every monday evening. The decoration on the walls remains in the theme of bullfighting with bulls’ heads on the walls the environment remains very pleasant for a drink.