Monday, June 30, 2008

Hôtel du Panthéon

Housed in a splendid 18th-century corner building opposite the Panthéon (5th arrondissement) and just steps from the Sorbonne and Luxembourg Gardens, the Hôtel du Panthéon is one of those top of the scale 3-star properties that provides good value for money. The decór leans toward Provence, and an added bonus is that the walls of both the rooms and corridors are upholstered in toile-du-juoy fabrics, making for a remarkably quiet hotel experience.
Rooms are small, but tastefully furnished, while the bathrooms are modern and relatively large. Closet space is tight, but some rooms have an added bonus of direct views of the Panthéon. All rooms are air conditioned. A minuscule elevator serves all 36 rooms, some of which have exposed ceiling beams. The entire hotel is non-smoking, and there is free Wi-Fi. There is no restaurant, but breakfast is served in the stone vaulted cellar. The handsome lobby doubles as a bar. Rates are about 200 Euros per room per night.
The hotel's distinguished wine-colored awnings beckon from the Town Hall of the 5th arrondissement located right across the side street.
Recently an episode of Coronation Street, the long-running British soap opera (first aired in 1960!), was shot on location in the lobby of the Hôtel du Panthéon (photo below).

This hotel was thoroughly refurbished and redecorated in 2001, and its next-door neighbor, the Hôtel des Grands Hommes, has the same ownership/management. See separate post and photo below.
The near-by (RER B-line) Luxembourg underground station connects to both Charles-de-Gaulle and Orly airports.
Hôtel du Panthéon
Métro: Luxembourg (RER B-line)

Photo below, taken from the dome of the Panthéon:
The sandstone building with the tall arched windows is the Town Hall of the 5th arrondissement. The white corner building with the wine-colored awning is the Hôtel du Panthéon:

This photo is the reverse view, looking at the dome of the Panthéon from the hotel windows:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hôtel de Ville

The Paris City Hall building (1533-1628), in French Renaissance style, was inspired by the Châteaux of the Loire Valley.

The Hôtel de Ville is the largest city hall in Europe. Located adjacent to the Seine (Right Bank) opposite the Île de la Cité, it has been the location of the Paris municipal offices since 1357. It serves multiple functions – housing the administration staff and the Mayor of Paris (since 1977), as well as a venue for important city receptions.
In July 1357, Étienne Marcel, provost of the merchants of Paris (i.e. mayor), bought a large building, known as the House of Pillars, for use as a city hall. It was located on the square next to the river port where wheat and wood were unloaded, then known as the Place de Grève (Square of the Strand). Parisians frequently gathered here, particularly for public executions.
In 1533, François I decided to endow Paris with a city hall which would be worthy of his capital, then the largest city of Europe. The House of Pillars was torn down and replaced by a magnificent Renaissance style city hall inspired by the Châteaux of the Loire Valley. Work on the building was not completed until 1628. As space became scarce over the centuries, two wings were added to the main building in 1835. They were linked to the original façade by a gallery.
On January 18, 1871, crowds gathered outside the building to protest against the speculated surrender to the Prussians, who had laid siege to Paris. Subsequently, revolutionaries demanding the formation of a commune (commons) style government set fire to the Hôtel de Ville, thus destroying almost all extant public records from the French Revolutionary period dating back to 1789. The blaze completely gutted the building, leaving only a stone shell.

The reconstruction of the building recycled the stone shell, but the interior was completely new, with ceremonial rooms lavishly decorated in the 1880s style.
The building has been the scene of a number of historic events, notably the proclamation of the French Third Republic in 1870 and the famous speech by Charles de Gaulle on August 25, 1944, during the Liberation of Paris, in which he greeted the crowds from a front window.
The statue on the south side of the building is of Étienne Marcel. He came to an inglorious end, lynched by an angry mob after trying to assert the city’s powers a bit too energetically. The current mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, a socialist and the city's first openly gay leader, almost shared his fate. He was stabbed inside the building in 2002 during the first all-night, city-wide Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night) festival, when the long-inaccessible doors were thrown open to the public. But Delanoë recovered and has not lost his zeal for public access. He has since converted the opulent mayor’s private apartments into a day nursery for the children of municipal workers. The Mayor currently resides in his own personal residence in the Marais.
The vast masonry square in front of the building is given seasonal treatment. In winter, it is the site of a popular ice skating rink; in late summer tons of sand is imported for beach volleyball games. For the second year in a row a temporary garden has been installed (mid-June through mid-August, see photo below) as a reminder of the efforts the city is making to return thousands of acres of city property to green space.

These interior photos are by Jason Whittaker:

Jeu de Paume Mania

Jeu de Paume traces its history as a sport back to the 11th century, when French monks played an early form of it, using the palms of their bare hands to volley cloth bags of hair and cork back and forth. Jeu de Paume means literally "game of palm." Over time the cloth bags gave way to balls, and wooden racquets were used for batting them.
Young nobles educated in monasteries brought the game home to their palaces and estates, and the sport caught on. Universities and entrepreneurs built courts, and by 1292 at least 13 Jeu de Paume ball manufacturers had set up shop in Paris.
The sport became a full-fledged craze, and Jeu de Paume mania conquered Paris. As the madness grew, attempts at containing it were common. In 1397 the chief magistrate of Paris forbade playing Jeu de Paume on any day but Sunday, because “tradesmen and common folk are quitting their jobs and their families in order to play Jeu de Paume during working hours.”
Though similar in ways to modern tennis, which derived from it, Jeu de Paume is a more complex and technical sport. Played on an indoor court featuring angled walls and netted windows, the game favors precision ball placement and mental strategies akin to chess. The game, then as now, features a sagging fringed rope "net."

When lawn tennis was simplified into its popular form in 1874, it appropriated the scoring system of Jeu de Paume, as well as some terminology. The word “tennis,” for example, derives from the old word “tenez” (in this usage meaning “here it comes!” or “let's play!”), which Jeu de Paume players shouted before each serve; the term “love” comes from “l'oeuf,” the French word for egg, as its oval shape represented zero.
Nearly all French royalty were familiar with the sport from the 13th century on, though no regent matched the enthusiasm of Henry II, who played daily at his palace court during his reign in the mid-16th century. Henry refused to allow deference for his royal status on the court, playing his games “clad in white, with white shoes also, and with a fine straw hat upon his head; when one sees him thus at his game one would scarcely realize that it is the king who is playing, for even his errors are openly discussed, and more than once he was taken to task.”
During this era, the French populace matched the royal obsession for Jeu de Paume: In 1600, a Venetian ambassador to Paris wrote that the city was home to more than 250 Jeu de Paume courts. An English visitor from that time noted that there were far more Jeu de Paume courts than churches in France.
Jeu de Paume even figured in Shakespeare's Henry V, first performed in 1599. Early in the play, the French Dauphin mockingly responds to Henry's claim on France by sending him a basket of Jeu de Paume playing balls.

Practicing one's back-hand (at right)

Jeu de Paume's gradual slide into obscurity began when fixed games and gambling scandals sullied its reputation in the late 17th century; it became marginalized into a purely aristocratic hobby. Disused courts around Paris were converted into synagogues, storerooms, gymnasiums, garages, sheep pens – and most notably theaters.
Old playing courts were particularly popular with performance troupes, and the origins of French public theater in Paume courts determined the elongated rectangular shape of theater designs well into the 18th century.
Molière's first plays were performed in converted Jeu de Paume facilities, causing Voltaire to shudder a century later at the notion “that for the first performances of Tartuffe there was no worthier accommodation than a Paume court, with the audience standing in the pit, and the dandies sitting amongst the actors on stage.”
During the French Revolution of 1789, the sport of Jeu de Paume almost vanished, since anything associated with the King was abolished. The very proclamation of the French Revolution became known as the "Oath of the Jeu de Paume Court" (Le Serment du Jeu de Paume), because the venue chosen for this announcement was the Royal Jeu de Paume Court at Versailles.
However, the game has managed to retain a small number of ardent followers and is especially popular in England. World titles in the sport were first competed in 1740 and continue to the present day, making Jeu de Paume men’s singles the oldest continuous championship event in sports.
Today the indoor game is referred to by English speakers as "court tennis," and there are fewer than 50 venues available for playing it worldwide. There are but ten court tennis facilities in the U.S. The newest, constructed in 1997, is located in McLean, VA (a suburb of Washington, DC).
Since the game favors strategy over brawn, a particularly agile and cunning player can dominate the game for years. Perhaps the most storied player of the game was Frenchman Edmond Barre, who retained the world championship a record 33 years, from 1829 to 1862. A flamboyant character, Barre would walk as many as 20 miles to play an exhibition match; he ALWAYS won. When invited to play in England, his terms were “fees and expenses, plus two wenches a day.” Indeed. Sometimes, when bored with the abilities of his opponent, Barre would handicap himself by playing an entire match with the umpire perched atop his shoulders. I kid you not.

Hôtel du Jeu de Paume

There is a tourist hotel on the Île St-Louis that is partly housed in an old Jeu de Paume court. A glass elevator that ascends to the bedrooms affords guests a stunning view of the full height of the playing court, the floor of which serves as the breakfast room. Note that the painting above the sideboard illustrates a 17th century Jeu de Paume match.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Church of St-Germain-des-Prés

The 1,000 year old church of St-Germain-des-Prés gives its name to an entire neighborhood. The Romanesque church was once the center of a massive and powerful Benedictine monastery that covered thousands of acres along the Left Bank (today's 6th and 7th arrondissements). The abbey itself was founded in 558, and the bell tower pictured above is the oldest standing intact religious structure in all of Paris.

Today St-Germain is one of the most expensive, fashionable and trendy sectors of the city. Gone are the days when Hemingway rented rooms here for a pittance, and existential philosophers Sartre and de Beauvoir kept warm by sitting next to the stoves all day long in the literary cafés.

Famous landmarks just outside the church doors still draw tourists – The Café de Flor, Brasserie Lipp, Les Deux Magots – and the area is still the heart of publishing and government, which occupy many an impressive neighborhood mansion, known as a Hôtel Particulier.

The once powerful and mighty abbey, which had its own prison and hospital, was decimated during the French Revolution to the point that only the abbey church survives to this day. Most people regard the Place de la Concorde as being the principal location of bloodshed and violence during the Revolution, when in fact some of the bloodiest events of that era took place in the square right in front of this church.

The etching shown at right, dating from 1551, shows the church, prison and abbey with their fortifications (click to enlarge). Because it was outside of Paris at the time it was built, Saint-Germain-des-Prés was responsible for its own defense. Twice during the ninth century the abbey was sacked and burned by Viking invaders. For this reason, the abbey was surrounded by a wall with towers and a moat.

The church we see standing today has interior walls and ceilings that are handsomely painted and gilded (see photo), as were all the churches of Paris at one time. One can’t help but imagine similar decoration at Notre-Dame cathedral, whose entire facade and interior were once brightly painted and gilded .

In the 6th century, the church and abbey were known as Saint-Vincent and Sainte-Croix. Merovingian King Childebert built the abbey of Saint Vincent as a shrine to house relics of the saint as well as a jewel-encrusted cross that was reported to have been made for King Solomon. The abbey church, built on the site of a former temple to the Egyptian god Isis, was a magnificent basilica whose exterior was clad in gilded copper and gold mosaics; the interior sported marble columns and gilded rafters. All that gold led to the moniker Saint-Germain-le-Doré (doré = golden).

Germain, the Bishop of Paris, encouraged the king to build the abbey, and soon after his death, Germain was canonized as St. Germain of Auxerre.

The abbey church became the burial place for Merovingian kings until 639 (thereafter French Kings were buried at the Basilica of St. Denis, north of Paris, up until the French Revolution). Two hundred years after Saint Germain's death the church was renamed in his honor, as the church of St-Germain-des-Prés.

Before the area around St-Germain-des-Prés was inhabited, the terrain was that of a great prairie, from which the abbey took its name. “St-Germain des Prés,” literally “Saint Germain of the fields,” distinguishes it from “St-Germain l’Auxerrois,” opposite the Louvre (see separate post), also named in honor of the bishop of Auxerre.

For hundreds of years the monastery remained separate from the city of Paris and its governance, under direct control of the Pope, instead. When Philippe Auguste built his great wall around Paris in 1193, the monastery remained outside it, and the abbey had legal jurisdiction over the village that had grown up around it. In fact, the riches of the abbey approached those of the city of Paris itself, causing the successive kings to keep a close eye on what was regarded as a rival to their power.

When the university left the grounds of Notre-Dame on the Ile de la Cité and moved to the Left Bank in what is now the neighboring 5th arrondissement, there arose perennial conflicts between those students and the monks from the St-Germain abbey. The students were noisy, disturbing the monks; they trespassed on the abbey's property that had been deemed off limits, and they disturbed the peace of the local residents of the village that had grown up around the abbey, often leading to retaliation. These hostilities sometimes led to violent conflict.

In 1278 the abbey built some houses that blocked a path the students customarily used when traveling from the Latin Quarter to access sporting fields along the Seine, just north of the abbey. The students took it upon themselves to dismantle these structures, and the abbey retaliated with an armed attack, killing two of the students and injuring many more. Several were taken prisoner and cast into the abbey's dungeon (located on the site of the present-day Hotel Madison at 143, blvd. Saint-Germain). The other students appealed to both the king and the city's papal representative for retribution, receiving a sympathetic response. Both Rome and the French king were only too happy to censor the arrogance of the rich and powerful abbey. From then on the students maintained legal rights to use their beloved sporting fields, known as the Pré aux Clercs.

During the 16th century the authorities of Saint-Germain abbey dealt with the protestant Huguenots by capturing and torturing them; those who refused to deny their heretical faith under torture had their tongues pulled out and were subsequently burned alive on the square in front of the abbey church.

During the French Revolution the abbey was seized, looted and largely destroyed, and the once mighty monastery reached the end of its 1,200-year history. The church's prison was filled to overflowing with enemies of the revolution, hundreds of whom were slaughtered in the abbey's courtyard or on the square in front of the church (now the corner of Rue Bonaparte and Blvd. Saint-Germain). This activity reached its peak in September, 1792. Shortly thereafter the abbey's great library burned down in 1794.

Although the church of Saint-Germain was eventually reconsecrated after the Revolution, its status was reduced to that of a mere parish church. Its once vast tracts of land were reduced to the abbey church itself and an adjacent garden. These days many people enter the church of Saint-Germain to attend concerts and organ recitals. Others seek out the tomb of René Descartes, buried in one of the church's side chapels. However, few modern-day visitors are aware of the mighty and turbulent past of the abbey of Saint-Germain.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Paris Street Signs

Before 1728 there were no street signs in Paris (or very few). From this date onward, however, it became compulsory for the owners of the first and last house of each street to engrave the street name onto their buildings. In 1806 Napoleon passed a law saying that street names should not be engraved, but painted. By 1847 the paint was gone (and so was Napoleon), and the local authorities turned to a well proven technique: porcelain enamel. This is the method used to this day, even for new streets.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dog Poop

There are about 200,000 dogs kept as pets in Paris, and they produce 16 tons of poop every day (not a typo). The situation has improved in recent years, since a fine of 183 Euros per infraction has been enacted. Dog owners are now more disciplined - thanks to signs like this: “I like my neighborhood, so I pick up after my dog.” Nowadays walking along the sidewalks of Paris yields fewer unpleasant surprises than before.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Place de Séoul

The housing project at Place de Séoul was designed by the Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill and built in the mid-1980s. The buildings circle the Place de Séoul and offer interesting reflections in the mirrored and faceted surfaces. Its location, just south of Place de Catalogne, is difficult to find, since it is not marked on most Paris maps. From Métro Pernéty station (14th arrondissement), walk north-east along Rue Raymond Losserand, then turn left onto Rue du Chateau; at the crossing with Rue Guilleminot you will reach Place de l'Abbé Jean Lebeuf; cross it and head north-west (on a pedestrian street) to enter the circular buildings that surround Place de Séoul to take in the amazing effect of the mirrored facades. The same architect designed the circular buildings at Place de Catalogne, adjacent to this location (find your way back to Rue du Chateau and turn left).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cathédrale St-Alexandre-Nevsky

Located between the Arc de Triomphe and Parc Monceau, the Russian Orthodox Cathédrale St-Alexandre-Nevsky was consecrated in 1861. The structure was financed by contributions from the ex-pat Russian community and a large personal donation from Tsar Alexander II. The church became a cathedral in 1922, and a major restoration was carried out in 1996. The Byzantine-inspired interior is richly ornamented with icons, mosaics and frescoes. Sunday services are still conducted in the Russian language.
It should be noted that the Russian restaurant opposite the cathedral, À la Ville de Petrograd, used to host such Russian notables as Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Nabokov.
Around the corner from this cathedral is one of the most celebrated small concert halls of Paris, the Salle Pleyel (at 252, rue de Faubourg St-Honoré), recently reopened after extensive renovations.
Cathédrale St-Alexandre-Nevsky
12, rue Daru
Open to the public Tuesdays and Fridays, 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Métro: Ternes or Courcelles

Russian Orthodox Archbishop Gabriel in full regalia.

The cathedral was the location of three notable weddings.
Pablo Picasso celebrated his first wedding ceremony here in 1921, when he was married by Orthodox rites to Olga Khoklova, a member of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (photo below).

2. Woolworth heiress
Barbara Hutton’s first wedding took place in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris on June 22, 1933 (see photos below). The bride, age 20, had just come into her extraordinary inheritance. She became a “princess” when she married Russian “Prince” Alexis Mdivani of Georgia, a member of a faux-noble family that fled from Russia to Paris after the 1917 revolution. The two were introduced by socialite Elsa Maxwell. Unfortunately, their marriage lasted only a few days shy of two years. As a wedding gift for her Russian husband, Ms. Hutton commissioned a one-off 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II. Mdivani was killed in France (near the Spanish border) while driving it just three months after their divorce. The car, subsequently restored by the original designer, was recently auctioned on E-Bay (starting bid at $1.1 million).

3. In December of 1979 Russian-born cellist/conductor
Mstislav Rostropovich and wife Galina Vishnevskaya (a celebrated singer) posed with their daughter Elena and her husband Peter Daniel at their daughter's wedding ceremony in the St. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox cathedral in Paris, as shown in the photo below.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Macabre Paris: Human Calcium Deposits

Countless bones and skulls are stacked neatly.

In mid-September, 2009, these catacombs were vandalized. Somehow one or more people gained illegal entry and did a great amount of damage, tearing out the ancient bones from their neat stacks and sculptural arrangements, smashing them and tossing them onto the floor, “with a pick-axe” according to some reports. The Catacombs will be closed at least until the end of the year, so that things can be cleaned up and repaired. Some of the damage is permanent, of course, since the bones themselves cannot be replaced.

The entrance to this underground world is at Place Denfert (14th Arrondissement), through a simple black door on an unassuming building located right across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau métro station. The catacombs are part of a network of 186 miles of subterranean tunnels and rooms located in abandoned limestone quarries. Only about one mile is open to the public. These quarries provided the limestone used to construct the medieval walls and ramparts of Paris, the cathedral of Notre-Dame, the Louvre fortress and many other structures still extant throughout the city.
Skeleton storage in these empty quarries began in 1786 as the Les Halles district of Paris was suffering from disease due to the contamination caused by improper burials and open mass graves in churchyard cemeteries. Many churchyards had risen about eight feet above street level to accommodate thirty generations of graves. For health reasons it was decided to close these cemeteries and remove the bones to the abandoned quarries. Every night for fifteen months carts of skeletons left the Les Halles cemeteries accompanied by a torch-lit procession of priests who intoned a requiem mass.
It is estimated that around 6 million skeletons from more than 30 cemeteries were transferred by the time the project was completed in 1860. No attempt was made to identify individual bodies, but each grouping of bones was marked with a plaque to indicate the cemetery of origin and the year of the transfer. Tibias and femurs by the thousands are stacked neatly, interspersed with rows of skulls, which are sometimes arranged artistically in a cross or other geometric pattern.
There is a documented instance of truly macabre proportions. Philibert Aspairt, a doorkeeper of the Val-de-Grâce hospital, descended into the catacombs by way of a staircase in 1793 and was never seen again. Eleven years later his still clothed decomposed body, showing visible evidence of gnawing by rats, was found at the spot where he had become hopelessly lost. The set of keys on his belt identified him as the lost gatekeeper of Val-de-Grâce.
These days tourists have a slightly less sinister experience. After purchasing a ticket, visitors descend a spiral staircase to enter a small gallery of photographs and drawings. Beyond the gallery, a path through long tunnels leads to a large chamber with a sign over the entrance to a hallway that reads: “Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort.” (Stop! This is the empire of death). Not for everyone, perhaps.
The catacombs, recently closed for structural reinforcement, reopened in February, 2008.
Open daily 10:00a-5:00p except Mondays.
Métro: Denfert-Rochereau
Entrance at 1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy. Admission fee 7€. Last tickets sold at 4:00 p.m.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Statues on Place de la Concorde

The octagonal Place de la Concorde is ringed by statues of women representing eight cities of France: Lille, Rouen, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Lyons, Nantes, Brest and Bordeaux. The plinths on which the statues sit date from the time when the square was conceived in the 18th century, but the statues were not added until the 19th century. They were crafted by four sculptors under a competition organized by the July Monarchy between 1836 and 1840; none is considered a masterpiece, but the female octet has become an integral part of Paris’s largest (and most congested) square.
All eight of these statues were restored in time for the 1989 bicentennial celebration of the French revolution. The statue of Lille, in fact, was in such poor shape that she had to be virtually re-created. The statues of Lille and Strasbourg were by Swiss sculptor James (Jean-Jacques) Pradier, who used Juliette Drouet as his model. Mme. Drouet was his mistress before she was passed along to serve Victor Hugo in the same capacity.
The statue of Strasbourg became an object of veneration and pilgrimage after the Germans annexed Alsace and Lorraine in 1871. This was a tremendous blow to France, and Parisians expressed their exasperation by covering the statue of Strasbourg on the Place de la Concorde with wreaths, postcards, flags, rifles and declarations of outrage vowing the return of Strasbourg to France. When Germany was defeated in World War I, jubilant mobs clambered all over the statue of Strasbourg, damaging her face. Her head, arms and one breast were replaced in the renovation of 1988.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

La Sorbonne

Robert de Sorbon, a chaplain and confessor to King Louis IX, founded a college in 1257 for poor theology students in Paris. It would later become the University of Paris, when additional courses of study were added. The Sorbonne established itself in areas around Notre-Dame Cathedral as a "universitas magistrorum et scholarium," a guild of masters and scholars. There were four faculties: Arts, Medicine, Law and Theology. The Faculty of Arts was the lowest in rank, but also the largest, since all students had to graduate from there before being admitted to one of the higher faculties.
Early student life was ruled by a rigorous class schedule that began in the early morning hours and stretched late into the evening. Students would sit on bales of hay to hear lectures given outdoors in the medieval streets. Professors enforced a regimen of strict discipline, both academically and physically.
By the 14th century there were as many as twenty thousand foreign students enrolled at the Sorbonne, making Paris the capital of knowledge of the Western world. The students were divided into four "nations," according to language or regional origin: France, Normandy, Picard, and England (the latter came to be known as the Alemannian [German] nation and included students from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe).
Then, as now, the Sorbonne and its students dominated the Latin Quarter, in the fifth arrondissement of Paris. The Latin Quarter takes its name from the fact that students and professors spoke Latin, up until the French Revolution of 1789.
Cardinal Richelieu was elected president of the Sorbonne in 1622 and embarked on a major building program. The Sorbonne Chapel was begun in 1635, and it is the only building still standing from that era. This chapel, where Richelieu was entombed after his death in 1642, dominates the Place de la Sorbonne today.

Place de la Sorbonne and the chapel from the Richelieu era.

Richelieu's tomb in the Sorbonne Chapel

The Sorbonne's close association with the church resulted in its being closed down during the French Revolution for nearly twenty years; it was reopened by Napoleon in 1808 to serve as part of the University of Paris.
Between then and 1885 the Sorbonne served as the seat of the university's theology faculties and of the Académie de Paris. At the end of the 19th century, the Sorbonne became an entirely secular institution, and the Sorbonne was rebuilt in 1883 in order to provide more room for the increasing needs of students. Amphitheaters, test rooms, labs, a library with over 2 million works, and an observatory were all built for the growing student body.

A block of 19th-century university buildings, including the Observatory.

The Sorbonne’s international reputation has always placed it among Europe’s most important universities. During medieval times it was considered one of the “four points of light,” along with the universities of Oxford, Bologna and Salamanca. It remains a vital part of a long university tradition.
Since medieval times, students have taken to the streets to demonstrate at the drop of a hat. The most significant crisis in modern times was the student riots of 1968, which resulted in severe wreckage to the university area, with streets piled high with refuse, cobblestones pulled from the pavement and thrown at police, barricades, burnt-out cars, chopped-down trees, and twisted railings hanging from university buildings. In 1968, the Sorbonne was thus the starting point of what became a cultural revolution, commonly known as the French May, resulting in the closing of the university for the third time in its history (the second having been during the invasion by the German army of 1940). Subsequently, major reforms were carried out, and the University of Paris was divided into thirteen different universities in 1970.

Photos showing the architectural distinction of the 19th-c. university buildings: