St Germain des Pres

This one-time suburb [faubourg] of Paris is located on the left bank across the Seine from the Tuileries.  It runs along the southern shore of the Seine, in the 7th and 6th arrondissements, and consists of the area east of boulevard St-Michel as far as to include the Musée d’Orsay.  It stretches some 4 to 5 blocks to the south, including boulevard St-Germain and several blocks to its south.

It is bordered on the north by the Seine, to the east by the Invalides & Tour Eiffel Quarter, to the south by the Luxembourg Quarter and to the west by the Latin Quarter.  The intellectual center of gravity, of this quartier of bistros, bookshops, coffee-houses, galleries, nightclubs and publishing houses, is at the intersection of rue Bonaparte and boulevard St-Germain.  This is the location of the Café Les Deux Magots [frequented by the writers of the “Lost Generation” of the 20s and 30s, and by the post World War IIExistentialists], the Café de Flore and the Brasserie Lipp.

St-Germain’s more interesting structures are the Cour du Commerce St-André, the Cour de Rohan, the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the Institut de France, the Palais Abbatial, the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, the Théâtre National de l’Odéon and the St-Germain-des-Prés church.  Some of its more interesting streets are boulevard St-Germain, the rue du Dragon and the rue de l’Odéon.  Its museums include the Musée Eugène Delacroix, the Musée Nationale de la Légion d’Honneur, the Musée de la Monnaie and the Musée d’Orsay.

It was supposedly at No. 9, Cour du Commerce St-André where Dr. Guillotin perfected his decapitating machine.  In 1835, the composer Saint-Saëns was born at a house where the small courtyard of the Cour de Rohan opens to the rue du Jardinet.  The Cour’s name is derived from the fact that, in the 15th century, the archbishop of Rouen had a town house there.

The Ecole Nationale d’Administration, where many well-known French politicians [including Jacques Chirac] once studied, was located at 13 rue de l’Université.  During the Revolution, the location was an ammunitions depot.

Since 1805, the building at 23 Quai de Conti has been the location where the 40 members of the Académie Française have worked on the official dictionary of the French language under the auspices of the Institut de France.

The Palais Abbatial, which was built for Charles of Bourbon in 1586, is located at 1 – 5 rue de l’Abbaye.  Charles was a cardinal and the abbot of St-Germain when it was built.  He later became king.  The abbey was seized, by the Revolutionary government, and sold.  During the 19th century, the sculptor James Pradier had his studio there.  The façade contains interesting ironwork.

The Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts is found at 14 rue Bonaparte, next to the Quai Malaquais.  It is France’s leading school of fine art.  It is quartered in the imposing Palais des Etudes and several adjoining buildings.

At 1 place Paul-Claudel is the neo-classical Théâtre National de l’Odéon.  It was constructed in 1779 on a site donated by the king and was originally used by the Comédie Française.  Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro was premiered there.

The oldest church in Paris is the St-Germain-des-Prés.  It was built, by the Merovingian King Childebert in 542, to house holy relics.  It was rebuilt during the 11th century, the 19th century and again in the 1990s.  Since its inception, it was a very influential Benedictine abbey. During the Revolution it was burned.  It was mostly rebuilt during the 19th century, but one of the 3 original Romanesque belfries still remains and is the oldest in France.  The philosopher-mathematician, René Descartes is buried there.  The church has a Gothic choir and a Romanesque nave.

Following World War II, boulevard St-Germain rivaled boulevard Montparnasse as the intellectual center of Paris.  This was the period when Jean Paul Startre, Simone de Beauvoir, Juliette Greco [the muse de St-Germain-des-Prés] and Albert Camus‘existentialized’ at the Deux Magot, the Café de Flore [see the nearby sculpture by Picasso] and the Brasserie Lipp [also a favorite eatery of  François Mitterand All three of these meeting places are clustered about the intersection of St-Germain des Prés and rue Bonaparte.

Le Procope the world’s first coffeehouse, founded in 1686, is situated at 13 rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie – just a few blocks west of the cafés.  It is no longer a coffee house, but rather an elegant restaurant.  Supposedly Voltaire would drink 40 cups of its coffee per day.  It was also a haunt of the young Napoléon I.

The rue du Dragon is a short street running from St-Germain des Prés to the Carrefour de la Croix Rouge. It boasts houses from the 17th and 18th century, but is really a relic of the Middle Ages.  When he was 19, Victor Hugo lived at No. 30.

The boulevard St-Germain stretches some two miles between the Pont de Sully, which crosses over to the Île St-Louis, to the Pont de la Concorde [near the d’Orsay Museum].  The fashionable boulevard is the result of the 19th century planning of Baron Haussmann.  The former president of France, François Mitterrand, had a town house near its crossing with rue de Bièvre in the 5th arrondissement.

The great cafés of the area are either on, or near, the boulevard.  The rue de l’Odéon runs from the Carrefour de l’Odéon [on St-Germain] to the Place de l’Odéon near the intersection of Monsieur le Prince and rue de Vaugirard.  It was the first street in Paris to have pavements with gutters, and was a center for intellectual book stores that attracted the likes of T.S. Eliot, Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway  and Ezra Pound and their French counterparts André Gide and Paul Valéry. At 6, rue de Fürstenberg, between rue Jacob and rue de l’Abbaye, is the Musée Eugène Delacroix.  The romantic painter lived here between 1857 and 1863 partly to be close to his work on the frescos of the Chapelle des Anges in the St-Sulpice church.

At the Quai d’Orsay, near the headquarters of the French Secret Service, is the Musée d’Orsay.  The museum was originally a belle époque railroad station that was scheduled for demolition in the 1970s.  Jack Long, the then Minister of Arts, was instrumental in having it transformed into one of the world’s most beautiful museums.

The d’Orsay houses most of the art that was formerly displayed or stored at the Jeu de Paume before its closing in 1986.  The museum displays a wide range of paintings and sculpture that includes works from before 1870, Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Naturalism, Symbolism and Art Nouveau.

Immediately east of the d’Orsay is the Palace of the Légion d’Honneur.  This is the old Hôtel Salm which was built in 1786.  Napoléon I, who created the Légion d’Honneur on May 19, 1802, lived there for several years before making it into a museum.

The Musée de la Monnaie, at 11 Quai de Conti, was the former French mint.  The building, which was finished in 1777, was the result of a design competition that was won by the architect Jacques Antoine.  Coins were minted there as late as 1973.  The building now displays an extensive collection of coins and medallions.

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