A Journey Through the Latin Quarter

 

Musée national du Moyen Âge

Musée national du Moyen Âge

According to Frommer travel guide writer, Darwin Porter, Paris’ Latin Quarter is a place “where students meet and fall in love over café crème and croissants.”Shara J. J. Cooper reveals the historical sites lying around every corner of this romantic region in central Paris.

It’s hard to imagine nowadays but, back in the 13th century, when Paris’s famous Sorbonne University was first built, every student was fluent in Latin. So much has changed in the last 800 years, but some things never do: back then, students were also fluent in wining, dining and carousing and they still are. So, even though they no longer speak Latin, they still hang out in what has always been known as Paris’s “Latin Quarter”, where the food is cheap and the atmosphere is happening.

The Latin Quarter is the perfect place for travelling Australian students to visit, but it is a popular tourist destination among all age groups. It has several must-see historical landmarks and is an ideal spot for observing Parisian life over a cup of coffee. Many locals and tourists enjoy a spot of people-watching on the café patios. It’s the perfect way to warm up to a day of sightseeing.

Paris, FranceAfter coffee and pastries, walk around the Latin Quarter and enjoy the old urban scenery. Be sure to stop in at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore (see page 10) before taking in some of the district’s oldest architecture. Check out the grandiose Notre Dame, Pantheon and Sainte-Chapelle. Notre Dame is the most famous cathedral ever built. Its first bricks were laid in 1163 and the building was finally finished in 1240. The Pantheon is an extraordinary temple where famous people like Voltaire and Rousseau were laid to rest while the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle, built in the mid-13th century to house Jesus’ Crown of Thorns, contains one of the most elaborate collections of stained glass in the world.

There are many other buildings to see, but the Musée national du Moyen Âge (formerly Musée de Cluny) stands out from the crowd. Built in the 15th century, this structure is a typical example of the period, complete with gargoyles. Inside, visitors can see many beautiful medieval artefacts as well as ornate tapestries including the famous The Lady and the Unicorn series. The Musée differs from other architectural delights because the building was designed to be a family home, rather than a castle; albeit, this particular home is rather expansive, and has boasted residents such as Mazarin and Mary Tudor.

 

Le Pantheon

Le Pantheon

Below the main floors of the Musée, visitors can find the Thermes de Cluny. These ancient Gallo-Roman baths date back to the 3rd century. The Romans built them as a means of converting the Gauls (Western Europeans) to their culture.

After a day of sightseeing, travellers often need to replenish themselves at one of the Latin Quarter’s many restaurants. What better place to do this than at Café Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris? This restaurant opened in 1686 and has been in business ever since. It offers traditional French food, such as Charolais beef tartare and iced mousse with Amaretto.

Once you’re replenished, visit one of the Latin Quarter’s many jazz clubs. Le Caveau des Oubliettes (the Cave of Dungeons) is the oldest jazz club in Paris. Located in a prison built in the 1300’s, the club plays up its macabre history with a décor of skulls and chains lining the way down to the lounge. Once there, however, visitors can enjoy an evening of cocktails and live music.  By Shara J. J. Cooper

 

Photos courtesy of Atout France and Bigstock

 

 

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