Paris – The Latin Quarter

( Originally Published Early 1900’s )

The uses to which monasteries, convents, and churches were put after the Revolution had driven forth their occupants, were many and varied, but it is worth while to consider the old monastery of the monks of St Bernard : it is on the rue de Pontoise in the 5th Arr just off the boulevard St Germain to the east of the Place Maubert. This monastery is used for firemen today; odd enough use!

This whole neighborhood must be thought of in terms of the Middle Ages, for every religious order had its houses here and its “college.” The “Latin Quarter” was the quarter of students, and students at that time were usually young men who had chosen the Church for their profession. They lived in the 5th and 6th Arrs.

Latin was spoken because it was a language common to all the “nations”; even the students of Picardy and Provence were unintelligible to each other unless they conversed in the learned tongue. But the Latin soon took on a medieval form which would have astounded the cultured Roman. And it is the spirit of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries which has lived on in the old portion of this quarter, rather than any trace of the later centuries. Latin conquered here and stayed.

Remembering that the boulevard St Michel is a prolongation of that other recently cut boulevard de Sébastopol, on the Right Bank, it is to be expected that little of interest will be found along its length except the Museum of Cluny, which was built on to the Roman Baths; the Luxembourg Gardens, once those of a Palace; and the School of Mines which while far from appearing of interest has a picturesque side to its buildings as well as to its history; its property belonged to Carthusian monks.

But two steps away in any direction you will find streets filled with memories of students through generations and generations and of all nationalities. There has never bear this in mind been a university center like it since the world began, not only in numbers of students but in the prestige and in the variety of subjects studied. This is not the place to give a history of it, yet its history would be fascinating.

If you want to follow on foot the path which students took in the 14th century from the Cité to their colleges, you have only to leave the Place St Michel by the rue de la Harpe, which originally was long and tortuous but is today included in the boulevard St Michel after a short curved length. You will soon find yourself at the rue Soufflot. Go up to the Mont St Geneviève, hill of so many memories that volumes have been written just to describe its intellectual life. It is one of the oldest Paris streets, having been here in the time of the Romans.

But it would be a pity not to walk the length of the rue Dauphine, which was cut by Henry IV and is still today, to my way of thinking, the most interesting of all the old streets of the Left Bank. You will find all the commerce subdued by the quality of the quarter, which is still very different from any on the Right Bank. You will find perspectives, old courts, old doorways, old dormer-windows in such numbers, that you will marvel that modern life goes on within all this medieval setting. The Club of the Cordeliers was at No. 18.

The cross-streets right there at the Place St Michel are too old to believe. Rue de la Hirondelle (Swallow), rue St André des Arts, rue de la Huchette, all belong historically to the 13th and even to the 12th century. If we could descend into the cellars of some of the old houses, we should find Gothic vaulting and subterranean pas-sages, as well as foundation walls of many a structure that was built even earlier, in the 11th and 10th centuries.

To the left, as you walk along the rue de la Harpe towards the boulevard St Germain from the river, is the rue de la Parcheminerie.