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Curious facts from the Latin quarter

2013-02-21

titul.jpgThe facts that you will find here a lot of tiny restaurants with the specialties from all over the world or that the heart of the Latin quarter is the Sorbonne University and that it is called Latin quarter because in the past the education language was Latin, these are the well known facts. Axelle, the guide from the Parisian blog Paris ZigZag, who was born in the Latin quarter and still lives there, reveals us much more. She shows us "Paris insolite" – the hidden places and less known curiosities of this part of Paris.

The meeting point of the group of passionate Parisians on the Sunday su1-ste-genevieve.jpgnny freezing afternoon is under the statue of Sainte Genéviève on the "Pont de la Tournelle" bridge. Sainte Genéviève is looking eastwards, in its stone form she protects a little girl, often at her other statues she protects a little lamb. From the bridge we look at the Notre-Dame cathedral, we observe a flush of gulls flying from one bank of the Seine river to another. Axelle explains that Victor Hugo with his novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" actually saved the cathedral from its downfall, he gave the cathedral a new glory.

On the other side of the street we look at the entrance of the world-famous restaurant "Tour d’Argent", reknown especially for its duck meat. The price of the dinner can go up to surprising amounts, however some happy individuals get here at least once in a lifetime. It is said that here the king Henri III. introduced using the fork in France, before it was used only in some Italian houses.2-pevnosti-mostu.jpg

Several steps further we walk along the "Paradis Latin", one of the oldest cabarets, although less known than Moulin Rouge or Lido, but still very favourite among the local Parisians. Cabaret was restaured and reopened by Gustav Eiffel.

At the entrance of a trivial parking place, our guide Axelle opens the door and leads us to the basement of the building, where we face one of the few remnants of Parisian fortification wall from the 12th century. The king Philippe Auguste did not want to leave Paris unprotected when he was leaving for the crusades and so he built the wall protecting Paris from its ennemies coming especially from the west (English kings and dukes from Normandy). The remnants of the fortification wall can still be seen in the Marais quarter. In the basement parking place we can see the remnants of the stone bridge which was above the Bièvre river flowing through Paris. The river was very polluted, full of waste s3-arene-de-lutece.jpgo it was dried. Under the stone bridge there were metal bars so that the ennemy could not get to Paris even under the water.

In the first century, in the time of the predecessor of Paris, Gallo-Roman Lutetia, was built the "Arène de Lutèce", with an incredible capacity of 17.000 spectators. Theatre performances were held here, as well as the animals and people combats. We are standing at the edge of the arena in order not to disturb the activity of this quarter. Boys of various ages play football, elderly men play petang, on the stairs (as the Paris4-rene-descart.jpgians call them "gradins") sit lovers, individuals reading a book, a group of young girls in a joyful discussion. By the surrounding buildings you still can notice the grillage behind which the animals were kept.

During the Haussmanian works they planned to make a bus storage here, but Victor Hugo comes again in his position of a protector of Paris. He writes various letters to the administration authorities fighting for keeping "arène de Lutèce" untouched. The place is not at all influenced by the tourists, it lives with its simple local rythm and as the guide tells us, for Parisians this leisure time oasis, this rest of old Lutetia, is very important.

We stop in front of the entrance of the house, where Réné Descartes lived. Axelle tells an interesting story that after the Descartes’ death in Stockholm his skull was stolen from the grave and it was found in the 19th century, together with a Latin poem and the list of the nine names – owners of the skull from the m5.jpgoment of the theft. Today the skull is in the Museum of the Jardin des Plantes. Behind the corner we get to the Mouffetard street, the main axe of the Latin quarter, where the guide shows us the old sign of the first chocolate shop in Paris from 1748, with the name "Nègre Joyeux", showing Zamor, the servant of Madame du Barry. Although the removal of this sign is being discussed, it is registered as the national monument.

On the fasade of the restaurant "Maison de Verlaine", the tables of which are deco6.jpgrated with fresh roses in the metal watering cans, we read two signs saying that this house was inhabited for several years by Ernest Hemingway and also by the 19th century poet Paul Verlaine.

We get to the Pantheón, the history of which is related to the patroness of Paris, Sainte Génèvieve. From the original Sainte Génèvieve Church there is only tower, since in the 18th century when the king Louis XV got ill, he prayed to this saint and was healed. From his gratitude he constructed for her the Panthéon Church. Later the church became a monument, the role of which is to be an honest resting place for the heroic "gods" of France. Here are located the bodies of 71 personnalities, among whom Marie Curie as the only woman. On the walls of this Neoclassicism monument you can notice shadows after the windows which were bricked in when Panthéon was not a church anymore.7-ste-genevieve.jpg

Right by the Panthéon your eyes scroll on the impressive fasade of the Sainte Génèvieve Library building, the first public library which was built as an independent library and not attached to a monastery or a church.

Our Sunday walk in the Latin Quarter approaches its end in front of the Sorbonne University, which in the 13th century as a "Collège de Sorbonne" was a teology faculty. At that time only 20 students lived and studied here for several years. An interesting fact is that already at that time it was a university, the reputation of which was not based on the financial capacity but on the „excellence“ criteria. Sorbonne was built by the cardinal Richelieu, who studied hee and also became a director of the university.

On the street "Rue des Ecoles" the statue of sitting Montaigne brings luck to 8.jpgthe student if a day before exam they touch his shoe and say "salut Montaigne". According to the used colour of the bronze one would believe that it really works. However, if Montaigne does not bring the luck and student fails the exam, he comes back to make a „bisutage“ (harass him), the proof of what are the red coloured lips of Montaigne.

Our walk through the curious parts of the Latin Quarter ends by reading the words on the stand of the Montaigne statue: "Paris has my heart since my childhood. I am French only by this great city. Especially great and incomparable in variety. The glory of France and one of the noblest ornaments of the world."

Maria Dopjerova-Danthine, Paristep
Source of information: guide Axelle from the Parisian blog Paris ZigZag  

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