Flâneries in Paris: Explore the Place Saint-Sulpice

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Flâneries in Paris: Explore the Place Saint-Sulpice
This is the 13th in a series of walking tours highlighting the sites and stories of diverse districts of Paris. La Place Saint-Sulpice is immediately imposing. The square is framed by chestnut trees and the Church of Saint-Sulpice forms a magnificent backdrop along one side. Cars and buses pootle around its edges, Parisians cross it purposefully on their way north to Boulevard Saint Germain or south to the Jardin du Luxembourg, tourists linger to take pictures of the elegant central fountain where four bishops nestle in alcoves under a domed roof. Watched over by enormous sculpted lions, they seem to be listening to the water cascading down two stepped levels into the pool below. St Sulpice Fountain detail, courtesy of Marian Jones At first sight, the fountain seems rather impractical, as if it were not designed to drink from. In fact, it really wasn’t and for a very specific reason. In the 1830s, the Préfet of the Seine masterminded a huge project, bringing clean water to Paris through 1700 small fountains. In addition, perhaps in celebration of his achievement, he oversaw the building of a small number of huge, decorative fountains, including this one and others at Place de la Concorde and the Fontaine Molière in the 1st arrondissement. So, this one is simply here to be admired. And it is lovely: a cooling promise on a hot summer’s day, a frosty beauty in winter. St Sulpice fountain, courtesy of Marian Jones The fountain is the subject of a linguistic joke which has been told down the generations. Being a French joke, it’s quite sophisticated, but I hope anglophone readers will enjoy it too! The fountain is known as les points cardinaux (the four points of the compass) because it is four-sided. The word cardinaux also means “cardinals” and the joke – and this is where you can allow yourself a wry smile – is that none of the four bishops whose statue is here was ever a cardinal. There’s even an extra “layer,” because point can mean “not,” so the fountain’s title translates as “not cardinals.” I imagine parents telling their teenagers this as they pass and wonder if it’s perhaps a joke which was funnier in the 19th century. The square – La Place Saint-Sulpice – was the subject of a literary experiment in October 1974. The author Georges Perec stationed himself there for 24 hours – actually three periods of eight hours – and wrote a minute-by-minute description of everything that happened. The resulting 60-page book was published in English under the title An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris and included such entries as “pigeons fly around the square,” “a 70 bus passes” and “the church bell stops.” Place Saint Sulpice, église et fontaine. Credit: Guillaume2294 / Wikimedia commons

Lead photo credit : Eglise Saint-Sulpice. Credit: Mbzt/ Wikimedia commons

More in Churches in France, churches in Paris, Delacroix, Flaneries, Flâneries in Paris, Saint Sulpice, saint-sulpice

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Susan Heywood
    2023-01-13 10:50:15
    Susan Heywood
    Fascinating article. St German is my favourite arrondissement - we always stay there in a little hotel opposite St German des Pres - but I have never ventured into the church of St Sulpice. An omission to definitively remedy when I am next in Paris!


    • Marian Jones
      2023-01-13 06:06:28
      Marian Jones
      I'm glad you enjoyed the piece, Susan and thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you enjoy your next trip to Paris!


  • Patricia Kale
    2023-01-13 05:48:12
    Patricia Kale
    Dear Marian, I do look forward to reading your posts in Bonjour Paris! I was hoping you could provide some tips for our upcoming trip to Paris in April 2023. We are planning to attend Sunday Mass at 11 am on April 2 at Eglise Saint Suplice, mainly to hear the organist. Wondering about crowds and places to eat afterwards. 1. Our group has 2 twenty/thirty-somethings, 2 sixty-somethings, one of which is a vegetarian. Would the Marche St Germain be a good place to eat lunch on a Sunday at 1 pm? 2. Any other lunch suggestions? 3. Any tips regarding attending Sunday Mass? Thank you for your time and attention. Best wishes, Patricia


    • Bonjour Paris Editors
      2023-01-13 13:39:29
      Bonjour Paris Editors
      Thank you for reading! You may want to consider Breizh Odeon for authentic crepes with high-quality, organic ingredients. You can make a reservation online, and vegetarian options are available. https://www.breizhcafe.com/breizh-cafe-odeon In the Marche St Germain, there's an outpost of the very popular L'Avant Comptoir, though vegetarian options might be lacking https://camdeborde.com/les-restaurants/avant-comptoir-du-marche