Numbers: 5, 7, 12, 15-21, 18/20
Named after the Medical School which now occupies much of its length, it received its current name for the first time in 1792 after the nationalisation of the huge Cordeliers monastery complex of the Capuchin Franciscan friars. Before then it was the Rue des Cordeliers.
One branch of the Franciscan (followers of St Francis of Assisi) friars, the hood and beard wearing Minor Capuchins, was particularly important in pre-revolutionary France where it had 284 monasteries. In Paris their Couvent des Cordeliers monastery (possibly so-called after the cords the friars tied around their stomachs) was one of the biggest. It covered an area that stretched from today’s Rue Racine and Rue de La Harpe to approximately 15-21 Rue de l’École de Médecine.
Briefly, between 1793 and 1794 the road was renamed Rue Marat, after the revolutionary who lived and was assassinated there in July 1793. At the overthrow of Robespierre it was immediately renamed the Rue de l’École-de-Santé and then from April 20 1796 it regained its earlier (and current) name.
No. 5 was the location of Louis XV’s free boys’ Royal School for Art and Design from its inception in 1767 until 1928. From 1810 it was funded by the State. Fernand Léger studied there in 1901-1902 after he had stopped studying architecture. the school was built on a medieval Jewish cemetery.
The road’s medical connection dates back to 1255 and in 1763 the Barber-Surgeons Guild funded the building of a small amphitheatre where students could watch them carry out operations at No. 7. The building was given its present columns and courtyard and extended in 1794.
The area became known as the Cordeliers district, and even before 1789 already had a radical tradition. Danton, Desmoulins and Marat all lived in the area. Marat in the Hôtel de Cahors roughly where Nos. 18-20 would have stood. This was where he was murdered.
All of the Cordeliers monasteries were closed in 1790 and so, when the Paris Council abolished the Cordeliers district in the municipal reoganisation, Danton and other area leaders founded a club there in the monastery’s refectory on April 27 1790.
The club’s official name was Société des Amis des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (Friends of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen), but it was known as the Club des Cordeliers. Its motto, proposed by Antoine-Francois Momoro, became Liberté, égalité, fraternité or Death. On June 21 1791 it was the first club to call for the Constituent Assembly to proclaim a republic.
On July 17 1792 this was where, after the failure of Louis XVI’s escape bid, Marat proposed a petition declaring ‘royalty incompatible with freedom’. That night, after the Champs de Mars massacre, the constitutional monarchists ordered the closure of the Cordeliers club and its leaders went into hiding.
A year later, on July 16 1793, after his assassination, the monastery garden was where Marat was first buried.
The School of Medicine’s amphitheatres at No. 7 and No. 12 were used as meeting places by several revolutionaries in 1848. These included those involved in the Club des Homme lettrés , the Club central de l’Agriculture, the Club de l’École de Médecine and the Comité électoral du 11ème arrondissement.
The School of Medicine was not only used for anatomical observation. On January 19 1868 Nathalie Le Mel, Eugène Varlin and others met in the small amphitheatre to hold the General Meeting that created the food cooperative called ‘La Marmite‘ (the cooking pot).
The large amphitheatre at No. 12 witnessed the General Assembly of Lithograph Printers on 29 August 1869 when they decided to affiliate to the International Association of Working Men.
From October 1870 more and more meetings took place at No. 12. On April 12 1871 Gustave Courbet was one of 400 artists who met there to elect an Artists’ Committee for the Commune’s Republic (Comité des Artistes pour la République communale). Courbet and 46 others were elected.
Among the other artists attending to set up the Artists Federation were Aimé-Jules Dalou (who later sculpted the ‘Triumph of the Republic’ in the Place de la Nation) Honoré Daumier, Camille Corot, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and Alexandre Falguière.