A stroll through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter in medieval Paris.
The Latin Quarter on the Left Bank is my favorite neighborhood in Paris. Perhaps because I was a French teacher, perhaps because I led student tours for many years, this colorful part of Paris traditionally frequented by students, intellectuals, writers, artists and the young in general has always been close to my heart. The members of my tours were always surprised to learn that it got its name “Latin Quarter” because in the Middle Ages Latin was the language of learning, and the University of Paris had its beginnings in the 12th century right in this part of town.
The first night in Paris on my tours I wanted the group to experience the narrow medieval streets of this historic district. I suggest starting out at the métro Maubert-Mutualité, crossing Bd. St-Germain and taking Rue Maître Albert, leading into Rue de la Bûcherie, across the river from Notre Dame. Just delight in the tiny streets that haven't changed all that much for 800 years! There are several charming places to have dinner along these streets and also along la Rue Galande, a little to the left, across Rue Lagrange.
At the end of Rue Galande, you will come upon the lovely little church St-Julien-le-Pauvre, one of the city's oldest religious buildings. It was built on the ruins of a church destroyed by the Normans in the 9th century and rebuilt in the 12th century in Gothic style. At the end of the 19th century the church was given to the Greek Orthodox faith. (For more details on Gothic architecture, see my blog of Feb. 8, 2016)
From the front of the church go to the Rue St-Jacques and onto the Rue du Petit Pont and just before you reach the river, turn left onto Rue de la Huchette. This little street and all the other ancient streets around it lying between Bd. St-Michel, Bd. St-Germain and Rue St-Jacques are very interesting and exciting places to stroll, especially after dark. This is not elegant Paris! But it is old Paris—passageways unchanged for centuries including rue de la Harpe, rue Xavier Privas, and the very very narrow rue du Chat qui Pêche. These streets are crowded, noisy, youthful and colorful: lots of cheap restaurants, many of them Greek, with the waiters standing outside trying to lure you in.
On Rue de la Huchette, be sure to take a look at the tiny Théâtre de la Huchette, with continuous performances of Ionesco's plays for over 48 years. Just wander around these narrow streets, and maybe pick up a baclava in one of the many shops specializing in Mediterranean pastries.
One treasure you want to see is the church of St-Séverin. Rue de la Harpe crosses Rue St-Séverin but everything in this neighborhood is so close you won't miss it. If you are here at night you will enjoy the lighting of this Gothic gem, and if during the day, you may want to visit the interior. Interesting to note that this church is a stone's throw from the mighty Notre Dame and I have always wondered how the relatively small population of 12th and 13th century Paris could sustain so many churches.
In future blogs we will look at more of my favorite spots in the 5th and 6th arrondissements. Stay tuned!