Good food, Haussmann architecture and plenty of history: few arrondissements capture the spirit of iconic Paris quite like the Latin Quarter. Oh, and if you’re in search of medieval Paris, then you’re definitely taking a step (back) in the right direction.
After all, the district is so called because medieval students of the nearby Sorbonne university spoke exclusively in Latin during the middle ages. Clergymen and students alike would wander the narrow cobbled alleyways conversing in Latin… and the name kind of just stuck!
Sitting squarely by the Seine on the left bank of the city, the Latin Quarter takes up much of the 5th and some of the 6th arrondissements of the city. It’s filled with eateries, bookstores, museums, as well as the Sorbonne University and a couple of ancient older gothic churches…
Here’s a quick guide to the Paris Latin Quarter:
The pantheon sits atop a wide boulevard, just as it has done since its construction in the mid 18th Century. Construction ended in 1789; at the very beginning of the French revolution. Once built to honour the patron Saint of Paris, Saint Genevieve, today it acts as a mausoleum and final resting place for French citizens of note.
One of the greatest honours a French citizen can be bestowed is to be buried in the Pantheon. It is here where you’ll find the resting place of Voltaire and Marie Curie. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, the first person to ever been interred in the Pantheon was removed during the French revolution and his body was never recovered. The Pantheon is also home to the infamous Fouquet Pendulum (built to prove that the earth is round- rather than flat as it was believed to be in the middle ages).
The area owes its history and name to students, and so it is perhaps rather fitting that it remains a hub of student life today. As such, the Latin Quarter is filled with bistros, bars, and student campuses. The historic University of Paris was established as early as the 13th Century and was a crucial factor in Paris becoming the capital of modern day France. Nearby there are a number of independent cinemas where you can watch vintage and independent films you won’t find elsewhere…
Shakespeare and Company Bookstore
Founded in 1919, Shakespeare and Co actually comprises of two neighbouring bookstores sat side by side. The café at the end of the street is also now owned and run by the company. Although the original bookstore from 1919 was closed down during the Nazi occupation of Paris and never reopened, George Whitman revived the concept, opening a new store by the same name in the 1950s. It soon became a hub for writers, and even has a library on the first floor. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a peek inside…
The Abbey Bookstore
There is always a large assortment of discount books residing in the Abbey Bookstore. The inside of the store is completely piled high with books; from floor to ceiling all available space is occupied. Rare finds sit next to barely used second-hand books. Coffee is available at the back of the shop to all those perusing the shelves in search of a rare find or vintage treasure.
A couple of meters from the Shakespear and Co. bookstore sits what may well be the prettiest square in Paris. Square René-Viviani is home to what is purportedly the oldest tree in the city. Apparently dating back to around 1650, and pretty damaged, you can tell that the tree has lived through a lot in its lifetime!
Jardin des Planets
While some may say that Paris is lacking in green space, this is definitely not the case if you know where to look… One of the largest gardens in the center of the city sits on the fringes of the Latin Quarter. Once a 17th Century herb and medicinal garden, the green space is now a welcome refuge from the narrow streets of the district. The garden is also home to Paris’ Natural History Museum and a particularly unique carousel, the Dodo Manège.