Central to the quarter is the famed Sorbonne, so named for its predecessor, the College dè Sorbonne, founded in 1257 as one of the first universities in the world (today, access is granted mainly to students and faculty, but guided tours are offered by appointment only, in French, to arranged groups of 10 or more, and take about 90 minutes. Periodically there are also cultural events that are open to the public). Latin, the language of learning during the Middle Ages, was spoken on the grounds of the Sorbonne, giving the quarter its name. More recently in history, the Latin Quarter was known as the heart of Bohemian Paris: intellectuals, artists, writers, students, philosophers and their muses gathered in the quarter’s cafés. Eventually the bohemians moved on to Montmartre, but this vibrant community, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Paris, is still full of students and academics and is home to many of Paris’ famous museums, bookstores, churches, historical monuments and gardens.
The Latin Quarter is conveniently situated just south of the Île de la Cité and the Left Bank. Its northern portions are within very easy walking distance of the Île de la Cité and its attractions, which include the Notre-Dame Cathedral. The Bastille and Marais neighborhoods lie just on the other side of the Siene.
Relics of an ancient Roman history
The known history of this area starts in 52 B.C., when Romans conquered the small population of Gauls living there. The Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia formed in and around this area.
Lutetia’s agora (city center) was situated on top of the hill that would later be called Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. Roads, arenas and thermal baths were built here soon thereafter. The present-day Rue Saint-Jacques was called the Cardo Maximus; this paved road connected the forum located at the top of that hill to the Seine. Meanwhile, the Rue Mouffetard, now a famous market street, was also completed around this time; this road actually ran from the Latin Quarter all the way to present-day Italy.
The Panthéon, resting place of Marie Curie, Victor Hugo and Louis Braille
Originally completed in 1790 as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, “panthéon” translates to “temple of all the gods”. Only a year after its completion, The Panthéon was changed from church to mausoleum and since that time, reverted back to being a church twice before settling on its duty as the resting place of some of France’s greatest national heroes such as Victor Hugo, Louis Braille, Voltaire, and Marie Curie. Looking out over all of Paris, both the architecture and the vista offered from the Panthéon are unforgettable.
In 1851, to demonstrate the earth’s rotation, physicist Léon Foucault installed a Foucault pendulum beneath the Panthéon's interior dome. Though the original was removed and installed in the Musée des Arts, a replica hung in the Panthéon until 2014, when it was taken down for repair work. It is estimated that the work will complete and the pendulum be reinstalled in 2017.
Banned Books and the Lost Generation
A visit to the Latin Quarter is not complete without a stop at Shakespeare & Company bookstore. The original, used as an office by James Joyce, was also a gathering place for “Lost Generation” writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and was famed for offering access to banned books like Joyce’s Ulysses and Fitzgerald’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. It closed during the German occupation in 1940 and never re-opened, but a second location, which began under a different name and was re-named in honor of the original, still exists today, run by the proprietor’s daughter, Sylvia Peach Whitman. She has carried on her father’s traditions, and the bookstore, which continues to attract an eclectic crowd, offers residencies, poetry readings, writing meetings, and Sunday tea.
Jardin des Plantes: 70 Acres of Gardens, Museums, a Labyrinth and a Zoo
Originally planted in 1635 as a medicinal herb garden for Louis XIII, the Jardin des Plantes spans almost 70 acres. It was opened to the public beginning in 1640 along with a school of botany that is still maintained by the garden today. This school constructs demonstration gardens, trains botanists and orchestrates a seed saving program to preserve biological diversity. Over five thousand plant species, a labyrinth, and a small zoo reside on the garden grounds. As one of the seven departments of the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (Museum of Natural History), the grounds of the garden are also home to four galleries of the Muséum: the Grande Galerie de l'Évolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum and the Entomology Museum.
Originally founded in 1795 with the exotic animals of the Versaille menagerie, today the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes includes many rare small and medium-sized animals. This attraction, which is the world’s second-oldest civic zoo, takes up a third of the Jardin des Plantes’ land area and is located right alongside the Siene.
Resources and other attractions in the Latin Quarter district
Jardin des Plantes
Shakespeare & Company
Arènes de Lutèce - Arena constructed during Gallo-Roman occupation that accommodated about 17,000 people. It, along with the Thermal Baths of Cluny, are the two most well-known traces of ancient Lutetia remaining.
Rue Mouffetard – neighborhood surrounding this street is one of Paris’ oldest and liveliest
Fontaine Saint-Michel – beautiful monumental fountain constructed in the 1800s
Musée national du Moyen Âge – museum of the Middle Ages built in the 1400s on Gallo-Roman baths ruins
Jardin du Luxembourg – large and picturesque gardens that are also home to the fontaine Médicis, a monumental fountain. Dedicated by Napoléon to the children of Paris.
Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe – one of the country’s national theatres; it was built in 1782
Caveau de la Huchette – popular jazz club located in a historic building that was built in the 1500s
Church of Saint-Séverin – one of the Left Bank’s oldest churches; it dates to the 1200s and is near the Cluny Baths and the Arènes de Lutèce
Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre – one of the three oldest buildings in Paris, it was originally built in 1045 and was Dante’s church of preference when writing his Divine Comedy
Those looking to travel from here to the Eiffel Tower or Champs-Élysées just need to hop on a train or two for the short trips. You can head from the Latin Quarter to the iconic iron structure by riding an RER C train for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, a trip from here to the Arc de Triomphe can be made in about the same amount of time by taking a RER B train to Gare de Châtelet – Les Halles and then transferring to an RER A train for the remainder of the trip.
The Gare de Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame RER station is located in this community’s northwest corner. RER B trains offer a convenient way for you to travel directly from Charles de Gaulle Airport into the Latin Quarter. These trains also stop at the Gare du Luxembourg, which is situated just to the west of this community, while RER C trains also serve the Gare d’Austerlitz, which is conveniently located just to the east of the Latin Quarter.
The most centrally located Paris Métro station within the Latin Quarter is Cardinal Lemoine,situated between the Lycée Henri-IV and Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie. It is also just five minutes' walking time from the Seine. Line 10 trains serve this station; passengers can head from here to places such as the Parc des Princes and Les Invalides. The Cardinal Lemoine is this line’s third-to-final stop when it travels to the east; it then stops at the Jussieu station, which is located on the Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie campus, before terminating at the Gare d’Austerlitz.
Line 7 trains stop at Jussieu as well as at Place Monge, another centrally located train station within the Latin Quarter. Travelers can catch Line 7 trains to attractions such as the Opera Garnier and Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie.
Vacation rentals in the Latin Quarter of Paris