The past Saturday, my French professor for the History of Paris class took us on a walking tour. We explored the Latin Quarter (the 5th arrondissement, called Latin Quarter because of the high concentration of universities and places of learning), taking a winding route that passed by the Panthéon, through Rue Mouffetard and ended at Port Royal. Having lived on the left bank of Paris for 7 months, I believed myself quite familiar with the area. Even still, the walk was an enlightening experience.
I thought I would share some of the interesting things I learned on the walk:
1) Le Panthéon: it is built on incredibly soft ground that renders the whole structure unstable. To partly fix this problem, all the windows in the Panthéon have been covered. You can see the outlines of at least 8 windows in the photo to the right. It makes for a very dark and sombre interior, but certainly adds gravitas to the building.
Panthéon is famous for its crypts that house some of the greatest French intellects and Republicans – from Voltaire and Rousseau to Émile Zola and Victor Hugo. It is a veritable history lesson, but I will always find it funny that Victor Hugo, Émile Zola and Alexandre Dumas share the same room in the crypts.
We did not go inside the Panthéon on the walking tour, but since I have been here previously, I will share a few photos of how the underground sections look like.
2) The partially demolished three-storey tall wall may seem an innocuous part of the city landscape, but it is actually a 12th Century Paris city wall. More precisely, this is one of the remains of the Wall of Philippe Auguste, the oldest and innermost city wall in Paris whose exact boundary is known.
The physical structure of Paris is hugely influenced by its many city walls. Most these walls are destroyed when the city expanded. But they are replaced by the iconic Grand boulevards, the Marshals boulevards and the periphery boulevards.
One of the early source of annoyance for me was the fact that street name changes as I progressed from one end of the road to another. The explanation lies in the fact that name changes often signal the site of previous city walls. The street Saint-Jacques becomes Faubourg Saint-Jacques past boulevard Port Royal because that was where the Philippe Auguste wall was located, delimiting Paris from the country-side. There are also several very interesting street naming conventions on which I would recommend people do further research.
3) Église Saint Étienne du Mont: this Church near the Panthéon was originally named after Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. It has a beautiful interior, incredible organ performances on Sundays, and houses the tombs of Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine.
Literally in the shadows of the Panthéon, this church is often overlooked. But it is definitely something to see for those in the area.
Until next time!