Named in 1846 after the priest Charles-Michel de L’Épée (1712-1789) who founded the Deaf and Dumb Institute (Institution des sourds-muets ).
No. 12 is where the command headquarters of the French resistance against the Luxembourg Palace and gardens was based in August 1944 under the leadership of Colonel Fabien, the alias of Pierre Georges. A very rare plaque naming a Communist is on the right of the entrance.
On 21 August 1941 Georges, an International Brigade fighter in Spain from 1936 to 1939, then using the alias Frédo, was the first Young Communist to kill a German soldier during the occupation of Paris.
The attack was mounted at the Barbès–Rochechouart metro station after Hitler invaded Russia on June 22 1941 by a PCF member.
The short street is one of the oldest on the left bank. It was given the name Bûcherie because of its proximity to the Port aux Bûches. This was where wood was unloaded and it was full of the wood merchants busy building Paris. But later in the Middle Ages the name changed to meaning ‘butchers’ as the street became the place where rotten carcasses of meat were salted and boiled to be fed to people living in Paris’ poorest district.
In 1821 the songwriter and pamphleteer Pierre-Jean de Bérangerspent three months at Sainte-Pélagie for an oblique political criticism of Louis XVIII. In 1832 Honoré Daumier is placed there. With cholera appearing in the prison a revolt organised by prisoners from the secret Society of the Friends of the People (Société des amis du people) that year led to one death. Hazan (WTP) writes that ‘under the Restoration and the July monarchy… all the opposition leaders passed’ through this prison.
Hazan (IOP) explains that when another prison to accommodate debtors was built in 1826 in the Rue de Clichy in the 9th arrondissement, ‘Creditors who requested the incarceration of a debtor were required to pay thirty francs a month for the prisoner’s maintenance’.
Honoré Daumier spent six months there in 1832 for his political caricatures attacking the new king Louis-Philippe.
164 arrests of republicans were made after the riots that followed the rue Transonain massacre of April 1834. Among those jailed at Sainte-Pélagie were Arago, Victor Schoelcher, Barbès and Godefroy de Cavaignac. Barbès organised an escape by 28 of them through a tunnel in July 1835.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a political prisoner held there from 1849 to 1852. After first fleeing to Belgium he returned to marry Euphrasie Piégard while still in jail.
Auguste Blanqui was held there in 1831, 1832 and 1836 and again from 1861 to 1865 when he escaped and went into exile in Belgium until the end of the Second Empire.
Jules Guesde was held there in 1878 in the section of the prison called Pavillion des Princes, entered through 2-14 rue due Puits de l’Érmite (roughly where 3-15 rue Lacépède is today).
On 30 July 1891 Paul Lafargue lost his appeal against a year’s imprisonment for an ‘inflammatory’ speech made after the killing of 10 demonstrators by troops on a May Day march in the Northern textile town, Fourmies.
From the Concièrgerie, where he was held initially, Lafargue was finally sent to Sainte-Pélagie. This was to his great relief, since it was still a political prison. He had access to books and newspapers, and hot and cold water for washing and taking baths.
Once this was a continuation of the Rue des Feuillantines. It was briefly named the southern section of the Rue Gay-Lussac. The street was knocked through under Haussmann in the 1850s when it was widened from 12m to 20m. In 1881 it was given its current name of the medical experimentalist Claude Bernard (1813-1878).
In the 1860s, when No. 77 was 91, Rue des Feuillantines, the three Reclus brothers, Élie, Élisée and Paul lived here. together. Among the republicans and revolutionaries who visited them were the artist Courbet, the photographer Nadar, the historian Michelet, as well as Proudhon and Bakunin.
The earlier Repubiican Socialist and Feminist writer, George Sand, lived from 1864 to 1869 in No. 97 of what was then the Rue des Feuillantines, now No. 90 Rue Claude Bernard.
The Lycée Henri-IV at No. 23 stands on the site of the Abbaye-Sainte-Geneviève canteen, cellar and garden hut which, after the fall of Robespierre in 1794, became home to the Panthéon Club. This was established on 17 November 1795 as a broad assembly of those who wished to carry forward the revolutionary spirit. Babeuf and Buonarroti were among those who took part.
On February 28 1796 the club was closed down by the authorities, with General Bonaparte personally supervising the operation. Babeuf and Buonarroti then pursued the struggle through less legal channels.
The Abbey became the Lycée Napoléon from 1804 to 1815 and again from 1848 to 1870. During the Commune it became a workshop for making uniforms for the National Guard that was defending Paris.
This was the editorial office of the CGT’s revolutionary syndicalist journal, L’Action directe’. Pierre Monatte worked as its proof reader.
In 1908 Monatte was living here when two gravel-pit strikers were shot by gendarmes at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. On July 30 1908 the CGT called a solidarity demonstration at Draveil that was attacked by soldiers. Four demonstrators were killed and 200 wounded, with 69 soldiers wounded. The next day the government announced it would arrest the CGT leadership for ‘moral responsibility’, including the printer, Monatte, who escaped to Switzerland.
The CGT called a 24-hour general strike on
August 3 1908, but it only had any real support in the building industry. Its
General Secretary, Victor Griffuelhes, and other CGT leaders were jailed. The
arrest of the direct action leadership, the failure of the general strike and
the defeat of the three-month long gravel workers’ strike was a turning point
in the CGT away from revolutionary syndicalism.
There is a little historical twist to Rue Daubenton’s connection with direct action. In 1561, Hazan (IOP) recalls: ‘following an obscure business about bells spoiling a meeting held by the Calvinists on Rue Patriarche (now Rue Daubenton, opposite Saint-Médard), the latter sacked the Saint-Médard church. This affair, known as the ‘Saint-Médard disturbance’, led to a number of deaths, and is often seen as a prelude to the [French] wars of religion’.
The rue des Écoles was the first of the broad streets driven through the Latin Quarter of Paris by Haussmann as a major East-West carriageway. It was given this name in 1852 since it crossed the Paris district with the highest concentration of universities/ colleges (Schools). Hazan reports (IOP) that the second, more successful attempt to create an East-West road on the left bank was the Boulevard Saint Germain. Its final section was only opened in 1877.
From 1816 until 1843 the Institute of Young Blind Persons was located at No. 2, on the site of a 13th century gate in the Philippe-August wall that was finally demolished in 1684. A plaque dating from 2002 records this as the address where Louis Braille (1809-1852) developed what became the braille reading system.
On 7 September 1870, after Napoleon III‘s defeat and capture at Sedan on September 2 in the Franco-Prussian war, Blanquipublished the first edition of a daily, La Patrie en danger (‘The country in danger’). Initially he supported the new Republican government, formed on September 4. The daily’s editorial offices were based then at No. 34, but the paper only published for five days until September 12.
On May 24 1871 during the Paris Commune the Versaillais installed a canon inside the Café Soufflet to be able to fire on the communard barricade at the Collège de France.
The barricade at No. 45 was quickly destroyed and the defenders executed. Priority in the executions was given to soldiers who had supported the Commune, considered deserters from the Versaillais army, and foreign fighters.
As early as 1873, however, students who later included Jules Guesdebegan to discuss Marx’s ideas at the same Café Soufflet on the corner of the Rue des Écoles and Boulevard St-Michel.
The poet Paul Verlaine lived at No.5 in the apartment belonging to Rachide Eymery in November 1886.
In 1902-3 Lenin gave three lectures on the Russian agrarian question to the Sorbonne University’s École pratique des Hautes études at No. 47 and at 16 rue de la Sorbonne, round the corner. Trotsky attended all three of them.
A secret printworks was placed in the basement of the Sorbonne’s Science Faculty at No. 47 in 1941. It printed the paper, Defence of France from September.
Hazan (IOP) adds: ‘Between the river and Rue des Écoles, a number of old bookshops-cum-publishers remain to remind you that until the end of the ancien régime, Rue Saint-Jacques had a virtual monopoly of printing – from the time that the three Gering brothers, who came from Konstanz, established their presses at the sign of the Soleil d’Or in 1473.’
The editorial offices at No. 4 of the libertarian Les Temps Nouveaux (New Times) from 1902 to August 1914 when it was banned. Its first fortnightly edition appeared in 1895. It became a weekly in 1911. Edited by Jean Grave its contributors included Élisée Reclus, Peter Kropotkin and Pierre Monatte. It was illustrated by many libertarian sympathising artists, including Maximilien Luce, Félix Vallotton, Paul Signac and Camille Pissarro.
Originally a 12th century road its name has changed many times since then. In 1890 it was made a continuation of the rue Broca. In 1938 it was given its current name in honour of the head of surgery at the Cochin Hospital in the 14th arrondissement who lived from 1852 to 1933. He organised the principles governing the evacuation of the wounded during the First World War.
The street finally took its current name in 1881. It roughly translates as ‘the street of torture’. The strappado is where the victim has their hands tied behind their back and they are dropped from a height, sometimes with weights added to the body to increase the pain. In English the word ‘estrapade’ has come to mean where a horse rears and plunges and kicks to try and unseat its rider. This is because it was the site of an ancient deep ditch dug outside Paris’ oldest medieval Wall that was constructed on Philippe Auguste’s order from 1190 to 1215.
Hazan (IOP) describes the Wall’s left-bank route as a ‘semi-eclipse that essentially encompasses the Latin Quarter. Starting at the Seine, where the Institute of France now stands, going up the rue Mazarine to the Porte de Buci, the old wall went along rue (formerly Fossés-) Monsieur-le-Prince up to the top of the Montagne Saint-Geneviève (now the Panthéon) where ‘the names of streets and squares still perpetuate its memory: Fossés-Saint-Jacques, Estrapade, Contrescarpe. It then descended towards the Seine in a straight line, following the rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor (now Cardinal-Lemoine) and rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard, reaching the river at the tower of La Tournelle.’
On June 24 1848, the workers’ barricade across the rue de l’Estrapade could be taken only after the Panthéon had been captured. To do this canons were placed in the rue Soufflot. Then soldiers who had got through to the square through a backdoor in the law school entered the Panthéon, where they took prisoners before executing them and then attacking and overwhelming the rue de l’Estrapade barricade.
Number 3, five minutes’ walk to the rue des Écoles where Lenin was lecturing, was where he and Krupskaya were put up by another Russian exile in 1902. The plaque on the wall confirms that Denis Diderot lived at the same address from 1747 to 1754 while he was publishing his enlightenment Encylopedia, whose aim was ‘change the way people think‘.
The road’s name dates back to the convent built in 1622 for an extremely strict Bernardine order in Paris and funded by Anne of Austria . The order was wound up in the French Revolution.
Two of France’s greatest writers are associated with this road: from the end of 1863 until early 1864 Émile Zola lived with his mother at No. 5; Victor Hugo lived in the old convent at No. 8 as a child from 1808-1813.
From January 1914 until September 1916 at No. 17 Trotsky edited with Julius Martov (until he broke with it in 1915) the newspaper called successively ‘The Voice’, ‘Our Word’ and finally ‘The Beginning’. Its opposition to the First World War was followed closely by Monatte and Rosmer.
The paper was supported financially by the Bulgarian socialist Christian Rakovski (1873-1941) who was present at the Zimmerwald Conference of 1915 and was a founder member of the Communist International. Rakovski was a friend of Trotsky and was finally imprisoned and executed in Russia in 1941. Lucky man, he was rehabilitated in 1988!
This 100m-long street, named from 1839 after Louis XIII’s doctor (1586-1641) who planted up the nearby Jardin Royal with medicinal plants from 1635. It is now known as the Jardin des Plantes. The street runs from the Rue Jussieu to the Rue Linné.
In 1928 the International Quaker Centre of the Society of Friends in Paris opened an International Youth Circle at No. 12. Every Tuesday it used to hold meetings with a range of pacifist, trade union, religious and political figures speaking.
One of those who started to attend in the early 1930s was Lucie Bernard (Aubrac). Among the speakers were Gandhi, Ilya Ehrenbourg, Jean Zay and René Belin, the anti-Communist trade unionist who became Minister of Labour under the Vichy Government and who after the war helped to rebuild ‘yellow unions’ in France.
Before the construction of the boulevards Saint-Germain and Saint-Michel, the 13th century narrow road went all the way to the southern gates of Paris (today’s Place Edmond-Rostand). It was named after a café sign of a harp.
Towards the end of his life the poet elected ‘Prince of Poets’ by the French literary world, Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), lived in poverty at the Hôtel de la Harpe at No. 6.
No 11 was a very old bookshop and printworks, where Philippe Buonarroti printed his influential works on Babeuf in 1830. Blanqui lived at No. 85 rue de la Harpe while fighting in the 1830 Revolution. Much earlier, in 1746, another printworks, Le Breton, at No. 16, printed the first volume of Diderot’s Encyclopedia.
Hospitals often have strange stories to tell. The former gunpowder factory and prison that became the Salpêtrière hospital at No. 47 was where Joseph Ignace Guillotin practised his ‘more humane’ method of execution (than hanging or shooting) on the hospital’s dead bodies on April 15 1792.
Six months after Dr Guillotin was there, 35 women common prisoners held there were murdered in the panic of the September massacres to which the revolutionary Jacobin leaders turned a blind eye.
Much further along the Boulevard, on March 25 1920 the future Ho Chi Minh attended an anti-colonial conference based on Lenin’s support for national independence at No. 127.
In the interwar years the Communist Party organised many meetings at the Trade Union Centre at No. 163 of groups such as the Women’s Union, the Humanity Defence Committee and the Red Campers.
The Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière at No. 47 was requisitioned by the Germans in 1940, and was where they used to bring tortured resistance fighters or their dead bodies.
The statue of the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot erected outside the hospital on December 4 1898 was melted down for guns in 1942 to help the German war effort, as were 100 others under the law of October 11 1941 passed by the Vichy Government.
The Boulevard was the route taken by the 9th company of Leclerc’s 2nd battalion on its way into Paris on 24 August 1944. Among the troops were 130 Spanish republicans whose armoured vehicles had been given names like Guadalajara, Teruel and Guernica.
Much later, this was where France’s first artificial heart was implanted in 1986, nearly twenty years after the first heart transplant in France took place there.
Two years earlier, in 1984, the hospital saw the deaths of two very different contributors to Paris’ left culture: Michel Foucault and Pierre Frank.
One of Paris’ oldest streets traced onto an earlier Roman road it dates back to the 3rd century AD when the old Roman town on the left bank was being abandoned in favour of the safer, fortified smaller location on the île de la Cité.
The road falls away on the south side of the Sainte-Genevieve hill. Its name could come from a corruption of the place name, Mont Cétard, to Mont Fétard and eventually becoming Mouffetard. Alternatively, the old French word ‘moufette‘ used to mean an awful smell, and it could be that this is its origin.
No. 23 was an important address for the interwar left in Paris. In 1933 Daniel Guérin organised meetings there for antifascist German refugees.
In 1935 it housed the offices of Marceau Pivert‘s Revolutionary Left newspaper, and in 1936 the anarchist journal ‘Spartacus’ Notebooks’ where Victor Serge published ‘16 shot: Where is the Russian Revolution going?‘.
In June 1848 a barricade went up across the road at No. 89. On June 23 1848 a company of the Mobile Guard was disarmed here.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given it was a very cheap area in which to live, and the numbers of political refugees coming to Paris, for nearly two decades from 1885, No. 140 was strongly associated with anarchist publications.
From 4 May 1895 it changed its name to become Les Temps Nouveaux (New Times), which continued to publish up to August 1914, when almost all its writers supported the First World War’s ‘Holy Unity’ against Germany.
On 24 February 1889 Pouget launched the weekly anarchist newspaper Le Père Peinard from the same address. This was frequently raided by the police and the last number of its first series appeared on 21 February 1894, when Pouget escaped to London.
In 1871 Élie Reclus, who had been director of the National Library in Paris under the Paris Commune was hidden in the rue Mouffetard by a family friend for several weeks before escaping to London.
The Panthéon dome (actually three in one like a Russian doll) is one of Paris’ landmarks. Jacques-Germain Soufflot’s Church of Saint-Genevieve on the hill to the South of the River Seine was built on a grand scale between 1755 and 1790 – and being completed only shortly after the French Revolution began.
Almost immediately the National Constituent Assembly decided to use the model of the Roman Pantheon and to install statues of great Frenchmen in it.
The slogan, ‘A grateful nation honours its great men‘, was put over the entrance and on April 4 1791 Mirabeau became its first brief resident (his ashes were taken away on November 25 1793), followed by Voltaire (July 11 1791), Rousseau (October 11 1794) and then several executed revolutionaries, including Jean-Paul Marat (September 21 1794 – and then thrown into the gutters by the Muscadins on February 26 1795).
Under Napoleon Bonaparte who gave it back to the Catholic Church, its crypt was stuffed with 41 mainly military figures. After the July Revolution it reverted to being a secular Pantheon on August 26 1830, but no more ‘great men’ were inserted there under Louis-Philippe who kept the crypt closed.
The square in front of the Panthéon became the meeting place for hundreds of demonstrations and pitched battles in the 19th and 20th centuries. One riot under a black flag started there on 21 December 1830 in protest against the light sentences given to the reactionary government ministers of Charles X.
On 22 February 1848 a student demonstration against the banning of university courses by Quinet and Michelet left from there for the Madeleine. Soon after the Panthéon was renamed ‘The Temple of Humanity’, with the intention of turning it into a monument to human progress. The Law School at No. 12 hosted the revolutionary Soufflot Club in March 1848.
On June 22 1848 the square was the meeting place of thousands of workers protesting the closure of the National Workshops who then organised the building of barricades and the call for an armed insurrection. It was one of the three main centres of resistance, with the barricade at the Rue d’Ulm being one of the most important.
The National Guard used canon to burst through the doors of the Panthéon on 25 June 1848 to dislodge the workers inside.
Following Louis Napoleon’s 1852 coup-d’état the building was returned to the Church again, now the ‘National Basilica’, and the surviving bits of the nun Genevieve’s 1,350-year-old corpse stuck together in a new tomb.
From September 4 1870 the Town Hall of the 5th Arrondissement at No. 21 became the recruiting office for the National Guard defending Paris. with 12 separate offices interviewing recruits. Between 200 and 300 summary executions of Communards took place there on 24 May 1871.
The Panthéon itself was shelled during the Franco-Prussian war and became the scene of a major battle between the Communards and the Versaillais army. On 31 March 1871 a red flag was attached to the sawn off wooden cross that had been erected on top of the building on the orders of Napoleon III. Jean Allemane spoke on the steps supporting the raising of the red flag.
The Law School at No. 12 was where the ‘Democ-Socs‘, the 5th arrondissement’s Democratic-Socialist Club was based in 1870-1871. Many were massacred here on May 24 1871 as the Army burst through to attack those defending the Panthéon via a side door.
Before the ‘Bloody Week’ of the Commune a communist and atheist newspaper l’Éducation républicaine was published at No. 9, being used by a revolutionary club called ‘The Democratic Association of Masters of Study‘.
The Panthéon finally returned to its role as resting place for the ‘great men’ of France on June 1 1885, after the government inserted Victor Hugo‘s body into the crypt.
On June 4 1908 Alfred Dreyfus was wounded in an attack on him when he attended the ceremony installing Émile Zola‘s body into the Panthéon.
The Ste Geneviève Library where Lenin researched ‘Materialism and Empiro Criticism’ in 1908, was based at No. 10.
In 1920, as part of the celebration of the German defeat, Sicard was commissioned to produce an altar dedicated to the National Convention that declared the First Republic in 1792.
On July 16 1942 the Police Station based in the Town Hall at No. 21 was used at a primary collection point for Jews being arrested for deportation by the Paris police in the entirely French-run exercise called ‘The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup‘ (Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver).
The road was built in 1825 along the course of one of the arms of the Bièvre River on the site of the former Cordeliers convent that was nationalised in the French Revolution and sold to tanning works 1796. The road was named after the 17th century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal who had lived nearby and who invented the first calculating machine.
The river bed on which it was built was crossed by the Boulevard de Port-Royal in 1866 (a view from the bridge is shown above in and the stream finally covered over in 1905.
Louis-Philippe’s prime minister, François Guizot, banned a democratic reform banquet scheduled for January 13 1848 to take place at what is now No. 54, in the Lourcine-Pascal Hospital, a cholera refuge from 1838 (since 1905 the Broca Hospital) on the site of the former Cordelières Abbey. That meeting was postponed to February 22 to take place in the Champs-Élysées. It is the banning of that meeting that sparked the 1848 February Revolution.
On June 23 1848 violent fighting took place at a barricade between Nos. 1 and 2 and only finished with the defeat of the workers protesting the closure of the National Workshops the following day.
In March 1871Jean Allemane and other Communards established the 5th arrondissement’s Watch Committee (Comité de vigilance), meeting at No. 17.
The road was renamed in 1893 after the biologist and zoologist, Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefages (1810-1892), who worked at the nearby National Natural History museum.
The location of what was No 2 is now the main entrance to the Great Paris mosque, built after the First World War in tribute to the 70,000 Muslim men who fought and died for France. It was paid for by the French government and inaugurated in 1926 and is the largest mosque in France.
No 4 used to be a centre for the rehabilitation of young tuberculosis sufferers, who included Robert Barcia/Hardy in 1952. Today it is called the Centre Colliard, and specialises in young people’s sexual concerns and health as one of the Health centres organised by the Health Foundation for French Students.
Named in 1877 after Marc Rataud, the Second Empire mayor of the 5th arrondissement from 1860 to 1870, the road climbs gently up the hill called themontagne Sainte-Geneviève.
Lucie Bernard (Aubrac from 1950) rented a flat in no. 5 from 1935 to 1938. This was the same address in the Latin Quarter that was expanding to the North as was used from 1933 to 1937 by the French section of the Society of Friends for their International Refugee Aid society, which supported refugees from Germany and then Spain.
Originally a cul de sac called the rue des Vignes after the vineyards planted down one side of the street, from 1882 it saw the construction of the Paris centre for science that became one of the 205 engineering universities in France allowed to award an engineering degree, the École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la ville de Paris.
From the 1900s the area was rebuilt to further accommodate buildings attached to the elite universities such as the École normale supérieure, in the nearby rue d’Ulm, known as the ENS, originally created in 1794.
Moving often around cheap rooms Zola lived for a few months in 1860-1861 in one at No. 4 after being thrown out of his Rue St Victor room for non-payment of his rent.
Henri Curiel, the major Egyptian-born internationalist activist, a supporter of the Algerian FLN and founder of the Sundanese-Egyptian Communist Party, also lived here on the 7th floor. He was assassinated coming out of the lift there on May 4 197 after the right-wing press mounted a campaign against him, claiming he was ‘a terrorist boss’.
Two far-right groups using the code Delta claimed the murder, but no-one has been tried. It is also possible that the murder was carried out by the French state, at the time very close to the apartheid regime in South Africa.
In the 16th century this ancient narrow road was called the Road of the Windmill, although this changed several times before being renamed in 1867 after the 18th century university rector Charles Rollin.
The short narrow road was named Royard-Collard in 1867 after the nearby road given the same name in 1846, the year after the death of a liberal philosoper-politician Pierre Royer-Collard.
The Hotel de la Paix at No. 5 was where Sigmund Freud stayed when he first came to Paris in 1885 to follow the courses of Professor Martin Charcot on hypnosis. It is now called the Jardins du Luxembourg. Naturally it has a plaque!
When Émile Zola started to work at the Hachette bookshop in 1862 he lived in a room at No. 7 cul-de-sac St Dominique, now called the Impasse Royer-Collard.
One of Paris’ oldest streets the road was the main north-south route through Paris under the Romans, who paved it and widened it (to half its present 20 metre width).
Use of St Jacques in the road’s name dates from the 1218 founding of a monastery of Dominican ‘brother preachers’ with a Saint-Jacques chapel. The location of the Jacobin brothers’ monastery was approximately around No. 158. It was closed in 1790 and its building gradually demolished over the first half ot the 19th century. In the early 17th century a second monastery for ‘reformed Jacobins’ was built on the Rue Saint-Honoré.
The road was definitively named the Rue Saint-Jacques in 1806 and variously widened and extended out to the Boulevard de Port Royal in the 1860s and 1900s.
No. 2 used to stand with other houses and shops in front of the Saint-Sevérin church was finally pulled down in 1907 for the last road-widening.
But on June 23 1848 workers resisting the closure of the world’s first workshops for the unemployed took shelter in the novelty shop No. 2 (not unlike the one I photographed in 2017 in the Rue des Petits Ponts a few metres away and shown here). The bourgeois armed guard entered the shop after them and massacred all of them.
The Saint-Sevérin church itself at No. 10 witnessed the summary execution of Communard supporters within the Church’s domed apse on May 24 1871. Many had been defending the barricade across the street at No 54 that was helping protect the Versaillais troops from attacking the Panthéon further up the hill.
Another barricade across the road at No. 195 was bypassed by the Versaillais troops and all its defenders killed on that same day during the ‘bloody week’ of the Commune.
The first student demonstration against the German occupation took place on 8 November 1940, when students gathered at the cross roads of the Rue des Écoles and Nos. 44-46 Rue St Jacques to protest against the arrest of Paul Langevin.
The Jesuit-origin Lycée Louis-le-Grand at No 123 has helped train French ruling elites since the 17th century now includes the site of the old Collège du Plessis at No. 115.
From 1792 to 1799 the Collège de Louis-le-Grand was renamed the Collège de l’Égalité. Its alumini included Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre, but also before the Revolution, Moliere, Voltaire, Sade and after Victor Hugo, Delacroix and Marc Bloch.
Part of the Plessis college was used as a prison, initially keeping those sent to Paris to be tried or executed by provincial towns lacking a guillotine, and then as an overflow. It was here that Babeuf met and influenced Buonarroti, Joseph Bodson (or William Bodson), Claude Fiquet, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lefranc, Morel, Claude Menessier, Jean-Baptiste Cazin, Guillaume Massart and Mathurin Bouin and other future members of Babeuf’s “conspiracy”. They were rounded up as Robespierre’s supporters in the summer of 1794 but used the months together to develop a more radical, communistic revolutionary politics.
The Academie d’ Absinthe café used by Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine was situated at No. 176. Absinthe was banned in 1914 in France but it remained the only European country not to allow the name to be used when it was approved by the European Union in 1988.
In 1888 Verlaine restarted his Wednesday literary meetings at the Grand Hôtel des Nations at No 216 where he was living. Later, in 1891, he lived at the dancer Eugénie Krantz’s flat at No 272 before moving to No. 187, which was where in 1893 he asked her to come and live with him.
When she came back to France in October 1910, the Bolshevik Inessa Armand first lived at No. 241 before moving to a flat next to Lenin’s in the Rue Marie-Rose.
Half a century earlier, No. 241 had also been one of the addresses where the teenage Emile Zola had stayed in 1859-1860 soon after arriving in Paris.
Zola moved to the sixth floor of No. 278 in 1864-1865 when he was 24 and worked in a bookshop. This was where his first novel, Contes à Ninon (Stories for Ninon), was published.
The school for deaf children founded by Charles-Michel de L’Épée at No 254 became a centre for revolutionary republican clubs in 1848. Those based here included: the Club des Intérêts du Peuple, the Club démocratique Ibérique and the Comité électoral démocratique du 11ème arrondissement.
Further south down the street is a plaque outside No 260/262. This honours Emile Durkheim, the ‘founder of sociology’, who lived there from 1902 to 1912.
In 1979 the military teaching hospital in the old abbey was moved to a new building with an entrance in the Boulevard de Port-Royal. It was finally closed in 2016, after having treated people like Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and the Algerian president from 1999 to 2019, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Marc Blondel died there in 2014.
The now much shortened road was originally named after the nearby 11th century Saint Victor Abbey on the banks of the Seine whose walls it skirted. That was closed in 1790 during the French Revolution and then demolished and replaced by a huge wine market in 1811. the abbey site is now occupied by the Paris Global Natural Phenomena Institute (Institut de physique du globe de Paris) and by the Jussieu University campus.
Under Haussmann and the construction of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Rue Monge and the Rue des Ecoles the original road lost 75% of its length, and as a result of successive rebuilding, the pavement in places now has two levels
Paul Verlaine was put up by his mistress, Eugénie Krantz, at her flat at No. 16 in 1895.
The Internatlonal Youth Congress against war and fascism took place at the Maison de la Mutualite on May 26 1933. Organised by Paul Langevin and others it aimed to build a common front against fascism.
In 1860 Émile Zola was thrown out of No. 35 for not paying his rent after staying in a room under the roof for a few weeks. During that time his friend from Aix-en-Provence, Paul Cézanne, visited him there.
The best-known Paris university was not just an added extra to the city. In many ways it and the growth of a complex of partly-religious partly-educational buildings actually created the city. Throughout the Middle Ages the Sorbonne and nearby religious institutions drew the sons of young wealthy people towards Paris from across Europe.
The university was the principal motor of the city’s growth before the Court years. It was founded by Robert de Sorbon in 1257. Richelieu ordered its rebuilding and had doubled its size by 1642.
For nearly eight centuries its students have included many of the most radical thinkers and activists – often ready to challenge the status quo that was more often than not represented by the university’s teachers.
Among the left students who passed through the Sorbonne were Lenin’s younger sister – a few years after he had been invited to lecture there on the Russian agrarian question. Lucie Aubrac, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre also studied there.
One exception to the dominant anti-radical teachers at the Sorbonne was Marc Bloch, who taught there from 1936 to 1940 when he was dismissed for being Jewish.
In May 1968 the Sorbonne was at the centre of the student demonstrations that had begun at Nanterre. Partly as a result it was divided in 1970 into several different institutions and several now include the word ‘Sorbonne’ in their titles.
One of the three barricades defending the Panthéon on May 24 1871 was across the neck of the road from No. 1 to No. 2. It was here that Jean Allemane fought until the barricade was overcome. The 400 Fédérés (Communards belonging to the Paris National Guard) who were captured were then shot after the barricade battles ended.
Another brief stay for Émile Zola as the young man moved around the Latin Quarter in the early 1860s was at No. 11, where he found a room over the winter of 1861-1862.
On June 23 and June 24 1848 violent battles took place at the barricade across the road at No. 12, as the government’s troops attacked the workers who had risen up in defence of the National Workshops.
The day after the June fighting ended, on June 25 1848 a National Guard corporal called Raguinard and another fighter on the barricade across the Rue d’Ulm were summarily executed outside No. 22, then at a corner with Rue St Hyacinthe, a road that disappeared entirely in the 1860s rebuilding under Haussmann.
The third barricade defending the Panthéon on May 24 1871 was across the road at No. 23, just where it joins the Boulevard St Michel – a site now occupied by a McDonald’s.
The Rue d’Ulm, going south from the Panthéon, was opened on January 6 1807. It was named after the crushing defeat of the Austrian army by Napoléon at the Battle of Ulm between October 15 and 20 1805.
It is largely known because since November 4 1847 it hosted France’s most prestigious higher education selective university, the École normale supérieure (ENS) at No. 45. This special institution was initiated by Napoléon on March 17 1808 when he created a ‘standard boarding school’ (Pensionnat normal) within Paris university to train arts and science teachers. The students had to follow military rules and wear uniforms and were chosen from those who performed best in the secondary schools.
Louis Pasteur‘s laboratory was based there from 1864 to 1888, and was where he discovered a vaccine for rabies. The photgraph above shows the ENS in 1905.
From 1888 to 1926 the socialist Lucien Herr was the director of the ENS general library, with one of the students he influenced being Léon Blum. Herr also convinced Jaures there in 1898 of the innocence of Captain Dreyfus.
Perhaps the ENS’ most well-known left resident was Louis Althusser. He entered the ENS in 1945. Having passed the final exams with the highest marks, he began to work there from 1948, living in a staff flat provided by the ENS. This was where in 1980 in a fit of manic depression Althusser strangled his partner of 54 years.
In the aftermath of 1968 the Maoist group, La Gauche Prolétarienne (The Proletarian Left), held regular meetings in the Cavaillès lecture theatre. Among their leaders was Benny Levy. On October 21 1970 they used the ENS building to make Molotov cocktails.
This is a street that has witnessed many barricade battles. With the Sorbonne University at No. 1, it was the site of confrontations between the police and students in 1968 and 2006.
In March 2006, after Sarkozy’s government introduced a law to force those under 26 to take whatever job they were offered and over the following two years, if they were dismissed by their employer, they would have no entitlement to unemployment benefit. University and secondary school students mobilised massively against the law, with demonstrations beginning at the Sorbonne. The law was withdrawn by the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin in April.
Further up the street, after it crosses the rue de Cujas is the independent Cinéma du Panthéon (there since 1907). It is opposite the nursery school at No. 14 where Lucie Bernard/Aubrac worked part-time in 1936.
Originally called the rue de Cluny after an ancient abbey, in 1864 the short street south of the Rue de la Sorbonne was renamed in honour of the educational reformer, Victor Cousin (1792 – 1867). Forced into exile in 1821 for his liberalism, he became a Professor at the Sorbonne University after the 1830 Revolution.
Cousin helped structure French education in the 1840s inserting the history of philosophy into the French secondary school curriculum. This is still taught to all French school students up to the age of 18.
Cousin’s philosophy of eclecticism, merging British empiricism with French idealism, dominated mainstream philosophy from the 1830s to the 1880s. But it was not without its critics.
In his 1839 ‘Refutation of Eclecticism‘ Pierre Leroux wrote: ‘M Cousin is an excellent translator of phrases, but a dreadful translator of ideas‘. Bakunin in 1882 wrote that ‘This superficial pedant, without a single original idea… this illustrious philosopher has cleverly prepared for the the use of the student youth of France, a metaphysical dish whose consumption, made compulsory in all the schools of the State has condemned several successive generations to indigestion of the brain‘
Much earlier, in 1741, a much more serious contributor to French philosophy and left thought, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, lived at the St Quentin hotel (finally demolished in 1892) that was on the present location of 7 rue Victor Cousin, but was then 14 rue des Cordiers. In 1744-45 Rousseau stays there again, marrying his mistress, Thérèse Levasseur.
You won’t find this hotel because the rue des Cordiers used to link the rue Victor Cousin and the rue St Jacques but was built over by the southern section of the Sorbonne.