Flâneries in Paris: Explore the Sorbonne and Latin Quarter

Flâneries in Paris: Explore the Sorbonne and Latin Quarter
This is the seventh in a series of walking tours highlighting the sites and stories of diverse districts of Paris. It’s never too late to dream of being a student in Paris! And where better to start a meander through the streets where students have gathered for more than 800 years than at Cluny-la-Sorbonne metro station? A glance at the ceiling, decorated with the signatures of writers and intellectuals connected to the area is a reminder of its central role in the city’s intellectual life: Rabelais, Sartre, Molière, Baudelaire….. Along the Boulevard St Michel, I passed the newly reopened Musée de Cluny, where the medieval treasures are a reminder of the days when university learning in Paris first began. Then came the Librairie Gibert Joseph bookshop, filled to bursting with new and second-hand books, some of them spilling out into racks on the pavement, followed by a left turn into Rue des Écoles, with more bookshops and brasseries. I soon came to the Sorbonne itself and, opposite it, the bronze statue of the Renaissance philosopher Montaigne, gazing benignly into the middle distance, as if lost in thought. His shiny right foot is a testament to a long-time student tradition that students pass by to rub it the night before an exam, hoping it will bring them luck. Sometimes they greet him with a cheery “Salut, Montaigne!” Librairie Gibert Joseph bookshop @ Marian Jones The statue is outside a pretty little park, the Square Samuel Paty, newly renamed in memory of a tragedy in October 2020 in a Paris school. History-geography teacher Samuel Paty was brutally murdered in an act which President Macron later called “terrorisme islamiste.” Monsieur Paty had incited fury in some quarters for discussing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in class. Siting a memorial here, explaining that “Il défendait les valeurs de la République,” reinforces the message that in the strictly secular French school system, freedom of speech should be respected. The Sorbonne sits on the corner of the Rue St Jacques, and its façade stretches down its right-hand side for half a kilometer with the names of the disciplines taught carved into arched panels along the top of the building: géographie, paléontologie, algèbre and dozens more. On the side of the road are other illustrious educational institutions such as the Collège de France, founded in the 16th century and still offering free public lectures today. Behind it is the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, one of France’s most prestigious schools, named after Louis XIV and alma mater of such luminaries as Molière, Delacroix, Jacques Chirac and André Citroën, founder of the motor company.

Lead photo credit : View of the Sorbonne and the district from the top of the Tour Saint Jacques. Credit: Jean-Christophe Windland / Wikimedia commons

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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.