Paris: Wonders of the 5th Arrondissement

Updated On: April 17, 2022

View of Paris with the Pantheon in the 5th arrondissement

Le cinquième in French, from the number 5 (cinq) in French, the 5th arrondissement is one of the central arrondissements of Paris. Also known as Panthéon; from the ancient temple or mausoleum in Rue Soufflot, the 5th arrondissement is by the southern bank of the River Seine.

The 5th arrondissement is notable for housing many important institution, whether historical, educational, cultural or of high education. The 5th arrondissement is also home to the Quartier Latin district, which has been dominated by universities, colleges and high schools since the 12th century, back when the Sorbonne was created.

Le cinquième is one of the oldest districts in Paris, as evidenced by many ancient ruins in the heart of the arrondissement. In this article, we’ll get to know what you can see, visit and do in the 5th arrondissement, where you can stay and where you can grab a delicious bite. But before all that, let me take you through a bit of history of the 5th arrondissement.

The 5th Arrondissement: History Snippet

Built by the Romans, the 5th arrondissement is the oldest of Paris’ 20 arrondissements. The Romans first conquered the Gaulish site on the île de la Cité, then they established the Roman city of Lutetia. The town of Lutetia was home of the Gallic tribe; Parisii, from which the modern city of Paris derived its name.

The town of Lutetia existed long before the Romans came along. Traces of human inhabitants in the area date back as early as the 3rd century BCE. Lutetia had a significant role as a town located on ancient trade routes. The Romans captured the town in the 1st century BCE and rebuilt it as a Roman city.

Even as a Roman city, Lutetia’s importance depended on its location at the meeting point of water and land trade routes. An evidence of the Gallo-Roman era is the Pillar of the Boatmen, built in Lutetia in honor of Jupiter. The column was built in the 1st century AD by local river merchants and sailors and is the oldest monument in Paris.

The Roman city of Lutetia was built as the model of Rome. A forum, an amphitheater, public and thermal baths and an arena were constructed. Of the ruins still standing till this day from the time of the Roman Lutetia is the forum, the amphitheater and the Roman baths. The city became the capital of the Merovingian dynasty of French Kings and was afterwards only known as Paris.

What to See and Do in the 5th Arrondissement

The 5th arrondissement houses between its streets many historical, religious and cultural landmarks. As well as Quartier Latin; one of the 5th arrondissement’s prestigious districts, it is shared with the 6th arrondissement and is home to institutions of high education at every corner.

Religious Buildings in the 5th Arrondissement

1.    Saint-Éphrem-le-Syriaque (Church of Saint Ephrem the Syrian):

Saint Ephrem is revered as one of the hymnographers of Eastern Christianity. He was born in the city of Nisibis, in modern day Nusaybin in Turkey around the year 306. He wrote a great number of hymns, poems and sermons in verse.

Two chapels precede the current church on the same site. The first chapel was around the year 1334 by André Ghini; Bishop of Arras. The bishop turned him home in Paris into a college of Italian students, known as the College of The Lombards.

In 1677, the college was bought by two Irish priests who turned it into an Irish college. They later built the second chapel by 1685. The present-day chapel was completed in 1738. However, it ceased its religious activities back in 1825 and was later bought by the City of Paris and attributed to the Syriac Catholic Mission in France in 1925.

Today, the church hosts frequent concerts usually by pianists and classical music. The acoustic atmosphere of the church adds to the beauty of the music. Imagine for example listening to Chopin, in a candle-lit venue. Calm and beautiful!

2.    Notre-Dame-du-Liban Church (Our Lady of Lebanon of Paris Cathedral):

This 19th century church is the mother church of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Paris. The cathedral was built around 1893 and 1894 by the architect Jules-Godefroy Astruc, and its inauguration took place in 1894. The church is by the Jesuit Fathers of Sainte-Geneviève school in the 5th arrondissement.

Notre-Dame-du-Liban is dedicated to Our Lady of Lebanon; a Marian shrine in the Lebanese capital; Beirut. In 1905, the French Law on Separation of the Churches and the State was issued, this resulted in the Jesuits leaving the church and the church was assigned to Maronite worship in 1915.

A Franco-Lebanese home was built around the church in 1937. The church was built in a Neo-Gothic style and major renovations to the building, its roof, the canopy and the rose took place 1990 and 1993. The classical label; Erato, performed most of their recordings in the church. Over the course of 30 years, more than 1,200 discs were recorded.

3.    Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church:

This church in the 5th arrondissement is located near the Panthéon. The first place of worship on site dates back to the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia. The Parisii tribe settled upon a hill on the left bank of the River Seine onto which they built a theater, baths and villas.

In the 6th century, King of the Franks; Clovis, had a basilica built on top of the church, dedicated to Apostles Peter and Paul. Clovis and his wife Clotilde, along with several kings of the Merovingian Dynasty were buried in the church. Saint Genevieve, who had defended the city against a barbarian attack, became the Patron Saint of the city and was also buried in the basilica.

St. Stephen's Church of the Mount is a place of Catholic worship in Paris located in the Latin quarter.
St. Stephen’s Church of the Mount is a place of Catholic worship in Paris located in the Latin quarter.

As a result, in 502, the Abbey of Saint Genevieve was built beside the church and the church became a part of the abbey. To the north of the abbey, a larger church was established in 1222, to accommodate the growing population of the city as well as the masters and students of the College of the Sorbonne. The new autonomous church was dedicated to Saint-Etienne or Saint Stephen.

Construction of the current church began in 1494, after a decision issued by the church authorities to build an entirely new church in new Flamboyant Gothic style. However, work on the new church wasn’t a match to the enthusiasm with which the decision was made; work proceeded very slowly on the new building.

In 1494, the apse and the bell tower were planned while the first two bells were cast in 1500. The choir was completed in 1537 and the apse of the alter chapels were blessed in 1541. The architectural style changed as time went by; what started in Flamboyant Gothic slowly developed into new Renaissance style.

The windows, the sculptures of the church as well as the nave were all finished in the new Renaissance architectural style. While the nave was only finished by 1584, work on the façade began in 1610. The ornate carved pulpit was installed in 1651, 25 years after the church was consecrated by the first bishop of Paris; Jean-François de Gondi.

The great religious value Saint-Etienne-du-Mont had during the 17th and 18th centuries. This was displayed in an annual procession that started from the church all the way to Notre Dame de Paris and back to the church, while carrying the shrine of Saint Genevieve. In addition to the burial of several notable scientists and artists in the church such as Pierre Perrault and Eustache Le Sueur.

King Louis XV wanted to replace the Abbey with a much larger church, after many modifications and alterations, the new building eventually resulted in the Paris Panthéon. Like much of the churches in France during the French Revolution, the church was closed and was later turned into a Temple of Filial Piety.

The church’s sculptures, decorations and even the stained glass suffered from severe damage during the revolution, and the church’s relics and treasures were looted. Under the Concordat of 1801, Catholic worship was restored in the church in 1803. The Abbey was demolished in 1804 with the only surviving building from it is the old bell tower which became part of the Lycée Henri IV campus.

Great restoration works on the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont was undertaken between 1865 and 1868. The Parisian architect; Victor Baltard supervised the restoration of the façade and the increase of its height. The sculptures and stained glass destroyed back during the revolution were replaced. This was in addition to adding a new chapel; the Chapel of Catechisms.

The Renaissance-styled façade of the church features an elongated pyramid of three levels. The lowest level is covered with sculpture then a triangular classical fronton and a bas-relief depicting the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The middle level is mainly a curvilinear fronton decorated with sculptures depicting France’s coat of arms and those of the old abbey, all above a Gothic rose window. The top level is a triangular gable with an elliptical rose window.

The church’s interior is a merge between Flamboyant Gothic architecture and New Renaissance style. The rib vaults with hanging keystones represent the Flamboyant Gothic style. While the classical columns and arcades with sculpted heads of the angels represent the New Renaissance style.

One of the church’s most exquisite features is the two grand arcades of the nave. The arcades have circular columns and rounded arches separating the nave from the outer aisles. The passageways of the arcades have balustrades, which are used to display tapestries from the church’s collection during special church holidays.

Another unique feature of the church is the Rood screen or the Jubé. This sculptural screen separating the nave from the choir is the only example of such a model in Paris, it was created in 1530. Once before, the screen was used to read the scripture to worshippers. The screen was designed by Antoine Beaucorps with French Renaissance decorations, despite its Gothic purpose. Two elegant staircases give access to the tribune in the center facing the nave, used for readings.

Even though Rood screens were popular during the Middle Ages, their use in architecture was abolished during the 17th and 18th centuries. This was following a decree by the Council of Trent who decided to make ceremonies in the choir more visible to parishioners in the nave.

Even though the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont church houses the shrine of Sainte Genevieve, the current reliquary was only made in the 19th century. The chapel of the Patron Saint of Paris was built in Flamboyant Gothic and her reliquary contains only a fragment of her original tomb. Her original tomb and relics were destroyed during the French Revolution.

At the east end of the church is the Chapel of the Virgin in addition to a small cloister that once included a cemetery but has no tombs now. There were originally three galleries in the church with 24 stained glass windows. However, many of them were destroyed during the French Revolution and only 12 of them survived. They depict scenes from both the Old and New Testament in addition to scenes of Paris Life.

The case of the church’s organ is the oldest and best preserved organ case in Paris. The organ itself was installed in 1636 by Pierre Pescheur, further works was done on the organ in later years; in 1863 and 1956. The organ case was made in 1633 and is topped by a sculpture depicting Christ with angels around him playing the kinnor.

4.    Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas Church:

Situated at the corner of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue de l’Abbé de l’Épée in the 5th arrondissement, this Roman Catholic parish church is a historical landmark since 1957. A place of worship existed on the same site of the current church as early as 1360. The first chapel was built by the Order of Saint James of Altopascio, who had acquired the land around the chapel in 1180.

Some brothers of the Order remained in the service of the chapel despite their oppression by Pope Pius II in 1459. By then several religious institutions and houses were built in the area around the chapel. In 1572, the site was ordered by Catherine de Medici to be a home for some Benedictine monks, who were expelled from their abbey of Saint-Magloire.

Due to the growth of the surrounding population around the chapel and the custom of the people to pray at the small chapel. The Benedictine monks were uncomfortable with the crowds and demanded their departure. Hence to accommodate the growing numbers of worshippers, the bishop order the construction of a new church, adjacent to the then Monastery of Saint-Magloire.

A small church was built afterwards in 1584 to service three parishes; Saint-Hippolyte, Saint-Benoît and Saint-Médard. A cemetery was created beside the original chapel in the same year of building the church. Even though the church was entered through the monastery’s cemetery, the cemetery was later closed in 1790. Not much time passed to realize even this church was too small to accommodate the worshippers.

Gaston; Duke of Orleans, ordered major reconstructions in 1630. This resulted in the demolition of the back wall of the church and reversal of the direction, hence entrance to the church became through Rue Saint-Jacques. Due to lack of funds and the poor state of the parish, work progressed very slowly and the originally planned Gothic style vault couldn’t be built.

Some workers offered to work on the church for one day a week without pay. As well as master carrier who paved the choir at no cost. However, a decision by the parliament in 1633 created a parish around the church and its dedication to Saint James the Minor and Philip the Apostle. These two saints have always been the patrons of the Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas.

The church’s history during the 17th century was rather interesting; with strong ties extended from the Abbey of Port-Royal-des-Champs. The abbey was the starting point of the spread of Jansenism in France. Furthermore, Princess Anne Geneviève de Bourbon, who’d embraced Jansenism, made huge donations to the construction of an annex to the abbey.

After the Princess’s death and the abbey’s destruction, her heart was deposited in the Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas. The tomb of Jean du Vergier de Hauranne is in the church as well. He was a friend of Cornelius Jansen and was responsible for the spread of Jansenism in France.

In 1675, architect Daniel Gittard drew new plans for the church and by 1685, the main work was done. However, not all the work envisioned by Gittard was built. Gittard had initially drew two towers for the church and only one was built, but with twice the height of the original plan. The Chapel of the Virgin was built in 1687.

As with all churches during the French Revolution, Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas also suffered from oppression. According to a law issued in 1797, equal access was to be granted to religious places to all religions who requested it. So, theophilantropists asked for access to the church and using it as a meeting place.  

The choir of the church was reserved for the theophilantropists and the nave was to be used by the Catholic worshippers. By then the church’s name was changed to the Temple of Charity. Under the Concordat of 1801, issued by Napoleon, the parish regained access to the entire church.

The effect of Jansenism on the decoration of the church was evident. During the 19th century, this sparse decoration was compensated for by donations from wealthy families. Offerings of paintings and glass windows were made by families such as The Baudicour Family who provided the alter in the north aisle in 1835 as well as the entirety of the decoration of the Chapel of Saint-Pierre.

An explosion in 1871 caused serious damage to the organ, which was restored in 1906. However, the electro-pneumatic components installed quickly deteriorated and another restoration work had to be carried out in the 1960s. The new organ, which still contained parts of the old one was eventually inaugurated in 1971.

One of the parish’s most prominent priests is Jean-Denis Cochin, who was priest from 1756 to 1780. Even though he did a lot of charity work, his most notable work was caring for the disadvantaged. To this purpose he founded a hospital in the Faubourg Saint-Jacques and named it after the parish’s patrons; Hôpital Saint-Jacques-Saint-Philippe-du-Haut-Pas.

The new hospital specialized in treating the injuries of poor workers, most of whom worked at the nearby quarries. When Jean-Denis Cochin died in 1783, he was buried at the foot of the chancel of the church. The hospital was named after him; Hôpital Cochin, in 1802 and it is still performing its duties until this very day.

Many French scientists are also buried in the church. These including Charles de Sévigné, son of the esteemed Madame de Sévigné, who after living an extravagant life, embraced Jansenism and lived a life of austerity. The Italian French astronomer, Giovanni Domenico Cassini as well as the French mathematician and astronomer Philippe de La Hire were also buried in the church.

5.    Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre Church:

This 13th century Melkite Greek Catholic parish church in the 5th arrondissement is one of the oldest religious buildings in Paris. Church of Saint Julian the Poor was originally a Roman Catholic church built in a Romanesque architectural style in the 13th century.

The church is dedicated to two saints with the same name; Julian of Le Mans and the other is from the region of Dauphiné. The addition of the words “the poor” comes from Le Mans’ dedication to the poor, which was described as extraordinary.

An earlier building existed on the same site since the 6th century. The nature of the building is not affirmed, though it was either a Merovingian refuge for pilgrims or an older church. There was also a Jewish synagogue located in its premises and is thought to be the oldest in the city.

Construction of the new and current standing church began around 1165 or 1170 with inspiration derived from either the Notre-Dame Cathedral or the Church of Saint Pierre de Montmartre. The Clunaic monastic community of Longpont supported the building efforts. This resulted in the finishing of the choir and the nave around 1210 or 1220.

 By 1250, all construction seem to have stopped. Following centuries of neglect, two of the original bays of the nave seem to have been demolished. However, a northwestern façade was added while the northern aisle was preserved with two of its bays serving as a sacristy.

Works stopped again and after more than a century, the building was set to be demolished during the French Revolution, which resulted in further damage to the building. As with all churches under the Concordat of 1801, Saint-Julien-le-Lauvre was restored to Catholicism and major restoration works began in the first half of the 19th century.

During the Third French Republic, specifically in 1889, the church was awarded to the Melkite Catholic community in Paris; the Arabs and Middle Easterners. As a result, major restoration works on the church were to be carried out. A step that was criticized by Joris-Karl Huysmans, the French writer, who described the introduction of Levant elements unto an old scenery as an absolute disagreement!

Even though Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre is one of the few churches to have survived from the 12th century, it was never completed in the original form it was planned in. For example, the choir was intended to be three stories high and a tower was supposed to be built on the southern side of the church but only the stairs of the tower were built.

Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was the site of the last, and failed, attempts to draw attention to the Dada art movement. The performance, called “Dada Excursion”, failed to attract attention and eventually resulted in the split of the artists who created the movement. On another note, the church served and still serves as a venue for concerts of both classical music and other music genres.

6.    Saint Médard Church:

This Roman Catholic church dedicated to Saint Medardus is located at the end of Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement. The first church built on site is said to date back to the 7th century which was later destroyed by the Norman invaders in their 9th century raids. After that, the church was not reconstructed until the 12th century.

Saint Medard was the bishop of Noyon in northern France. He lived during parts of the 5th and 6th centuries and was one of the most honored bishops of his time. He was often depicted as laughing, with his mouth wide open, a reason he was usually invoked against toothache.

Legend says that Saint Medard was protected from the rain as a child by an eagle that hovered over him. This is the main reason, Medardus is closely associated with the weather, good or bad. The weather legend of Saint Medard is similar to that of Saint Swithun in England.

The  weather legend of Saint Medard is explained in the rhyme: “Quand il pleut à la Saint-Médard, il pleut quarante jours plus tard.”  Or “If it rains on Saint Medardus’ Day, it rains for forty days more.” However, the legend actually is whatever the weather on Saint Medard’s Day (June 8th), good or bad, it will continue as such for forty days, unless the weather changes on Saint Barnabas’ Day (June 11th).

This is why Saint Medardus is the patron saint of vineyards, brewers, captives, prisoners, peasants and the mentally ill. He is also said to be the protector of those who work in the open air. All in addition to invoking him against toothache.

The Saint Medard Church was built mainly in a Flamboyant Gothic style, it was enlarged during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. With the last structural additions taking place in the 18th century. These being the construction of Chapelle de la Vierge and the presbytery.

During the French Revolution, Saint Medard Church was converted into a Temple of Work. The church resumed its activities with its original dedication after Napoleon’s Concordat of 1801. In the 19th century as well, the public garden in the Place Saint Medard was developed and enlarged.

Though the church’s architectural style is mainly Flamboyant Gothic, elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Classic styles intertwine in the church’s interior. There are different artworks such as “the Walk of Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus” by Zurbaran. There are Gobelin tapestries and stained glass windows.

7.    Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet Church:

 This Roman Catholic church in the 5th arrondissement is located in the heart of the city of Paris. The first worship place built on site was a small chapel in the 13th century. The area around the chapel was a field of chardons or thistles, hence the name of the church.

A church was built afterwards, replacing the chapel but the clock tower goes back as early as 1600. Major reconstruction works took place between 1656 and 1763. A seminary was established at Saint-Nicolas in 1612 by Adrien Bourdoise. The adjoining Mutualité site was also occupied by a seminary in the 19th century.

The ceiling of the Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet is decorated by the famous painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Corot is also the painter of the famous painting; Le Baptême du Christ. After the law on Separation of the Church and State, the City of Paris is the owner of the Saint-Nicolas church and it grants the Roman Catholic church a free usage right to the building.

Even though Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet started as a Roman Catholic Church, the church currently holds Latin mass. This all started when traditionalist priest François Ducaud-Bourget rejected the post Vatican II Mass and gathered his followers in a meeting in the nearby Maison de la Mutualité. Afterwards, they all marched to Saint-Nicolas Church, interrupting the ending mass and Ducaud-Bourget walked up to the alter and said Mass in Latin.

Even though the interruption was initially intended for the duration of the Mass, the occupation of the church went on indefinitely afterwards. The parish priest of Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet objected to what Ducaud-Bourget was doing, so they expelled him from the church. The parish priest turned to the court and was able to obtain a judicial order of eviction of the occupiers, but it was withheld pending mediation.

Writer Jean Guitton was chosen as a mediator between the occupiers and the Archbishop of Paris at the time; François Marty. After three months of mediation, Guitton admitted his failure to reach a middle ground. The legal battle afterwards continued between the legal decisions issued by the French courts and the failure of the police forces to implement them.

Back in the 1970s, the occupiers had aligned themselves with the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and subsequently received help from its leader; Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The traditionalists still hold Latin Mass in the church to this day. The church broadcasts its masses live on its YouTube channel, as well as Vespers, clergy-led Rosaries and catechism lessons.

8.    Saint-Séverin Church:

Located on the lively Rue Saint-Séverin in the Quartier Latin of the 5th arrondissement, this church is one of the oldest standing churches on the left bank of the River Seine. The first place of worship built on this site was an oratory built around the tomb of the devout hermit Séverin of Paris. The small church was built in a Romanesque style around the 11th century.

The growing community by the Left Bank created the need for a larger church. Hence, a bigger church, with a nave and lateral aisles was begun in the 13th century. In the following century, another aisles was added to the south side of the Gothic-styled church.

In the following centuries, several restoration works and additions were carried out. After a damaging fire during the Hundred Years’ War in 1448, the church was rebuilt in Late Gothic style and a new aisle was added to the north. Further additions were installed in 1489, these including a semi-circular apse at the eastern end with an ambulatory.

Saint-Séverin Church took on the general appearance it has now in 1520. Chapels were built on both sides of the church to provide more space. A second sacristy was added in 1643 and the Communion chapel on the southeast corner was built in 1673. Modifications to the choir, removal of the rood screen and adding marble to the apse columns were done in 1684.

The exterior of Saint-Séverin Church displays several elements of Gothic style. These include gargoyles and flying buttresses. The church’s bells include the oldest remaining church bell in Paris, cast in 1412. The church’s west entrance is topped by a Flamboyant rose window. The Gothic portal under the bell tower came from the demolished church of St-Pierre-aux-boeufs.

The interior decorations of Saint-Séverin include stained glass and seven modern glass windows by Jean René Bazaine, inspired by the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. An unusual feature of the interior is a pillar looking like a trunk of a palm tree, which strikes a resemblance to Apprentice Pillar at Rosslyn Chapel.

Medical historical record was achieved between the walls of the church. The first ever recorded surgery for removal of gallstones was performed by Germanus Collot in 1451.

9.    Val-de-Grâce Church:

Located within the premises of the Val-de-Grâce Hospital, this Roman Catholic Church is another landmark of the 5th arrondissement. The current church started out as an abbey, ordered by Anne of Austria, Queen Consort of King Louis XIII. Anne had ordered the construction of the abbey after befriending Marguerite de Veny d’Arbouse, prioress in the valley of the Bièvre River.

Construction works began in 1634 on the land of the previous Hôtel du Petit-Bourbon. Nevertheless, work was very slow especially after Anne fell out of favor with the king. Anne kept spending time at the abbey and it was her participation in intrigues with others who fell out of favor with the king that eventually led Louis to forbid her from visiting the abbey.

Not long after, Anne became pregnant with Louis’ heir; Dauphin Louis Dieudonné. After her husband’s death and becoming Queen Regent, Anne wanted to show her gratitude to the Virgin Mary for her son. Being childless for 23 years, she decided to continue the construction of the church in a baroque architectural style.

Construction works on the new church began in 1645 with architect François Mansart as main architect. Work on the church eventually finished 1667 after the participation of several architects after Mansart. These including Jacques Lemercier, Pierre Le Muet and Gabriel Leduc. It’s worth mentioning that Mansart left the project of the church only after a year, over a dispute concerning the scope and the cost of the project.

Being an architectural monument, the church building escaped demolition during the French Revolution. However, the church was disestablished in 1790. This resulted in the removal of the church’s furniture as well as its organ. In 1796, the church was converted into a military hospital.

The plan Mansart had for the church resembled that of a castle rather than a traditional church. He envisioned towers flanking the nave and an elevated entrance. The church has a two-storey façade with two stages of twin columns that support a pediment and flanking consoles.

The Baroque-styled dome has an inside dome that was decorated by Pierre Mignard between 1663 and 1666. The cupola of Val-de-Grâce was the first of its kind and size in Paris; until then smaller cupolas were painted using the same style. The cupola was done in fresco; painting on wet plaster making it the first important fresco in France.

The painting of the fresco depicts Anne of Austria present by Sainte Anne and Saint Louis. Anne of Austria is shown present a model of an abbey requested by her to the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The painting has more than 200 figures presented in concentric circles.

Not much is known of Val-de-Grâce’s organ before the French Revolution, when it was dismantled and removed. The church remained without an organ until the near end of the 19th century when the organ once installed in the previous Church of Sainte Genevieve was removed when it became the Pantheon. The Aristide Cavaillé-Coll organ was installed in Val-de-Grâce in 1891.

Slight renovation and expansion work was done on the organ in 1927 by Paul-Marie Koenig. Further restoration work was carried out between 1992 and 1993 which resulted in the removal of Koenig’s work and restoration of the organ to its original form.

Today, Val-de-Grâce is home to a museum and library of French Army medicine. The military hospital once established in 1796 was moved to a new building in 1979. Tours of the church and museum are available with camera only allowed inside the church. Seeing as it is a military establishment, guards are situated at different parts of the building.

10. La Grande Mosquée:

The Grand Mosque of Paris in the 5th arrondissement is one of the largest mosques in France. Plans to have a mosque built in the French Capital go back to 1842. However, the first structure resembling a mosque was built 1856 at Père Lachaise to hold funerary services and prayers for the deceased before their burials.

In 1883, the building at Père Lachaise fell into disrepair and even though later plans were proposed to restore it, it was better decided to not build a mosque at the cemetery. When Algeria was a French colony, the French state facilitated the travel of Algerians to France to fill in the gaps of working force and soldiers. The thousands of lives lost in the First World War Battle of Verdun, necessitated the building of the mosque.

In 1920, the French State funded the building of the Great Mosque of Paris. The proposed Muslim Institute was to include a mosque, a library and a meeting and study room. The first stone was laid in 1922 on the site of the former Charity Hospital and beside Jardin des Plantes. 

The mosque was built in Moorish Architectural style and effect of the el-Qaraouyyîn Mosque in Fez, Morocco was evident in all decorative elements of the mosque. The courtyards, the horseshoe arches, the zelliges were done by North African craftsmen using traditional materials. The design of the minaret on the other hand, was inspired by the Al-Zaytuna Mosque in Tunisia.

The Grand Mosque of Paris
The Grand Mosque of Paris

The Great Mosque of Paris comprises of a prayer room with decorations from all over the Islamic world. In addition to a madrasa, a library, a conference room, Arab gardens and an additional area with a restaurant, tea room, hammam and shops.

Today, the Grand Mosque of Paris has an important societal role in France, all the while promoting the visibility of Islam and Muslims. It was assigned to Algeria in 1957 and serves as the head mosque for the mosques of France. The mosque is open to tourists all year round except on Fridays and guided tours of the entire institute are available.

Open all days of the years are: the restaurant by the mosque is called “Aux Portes de l’Orient” or “At the Doors of the East” which serves Magreb cuisine, tagine and couscous. The Tea Room serves mint tea, loukoum and pastries. The Turkish baths available are exclusive for women while the shops sell traditional Arab crafts.

Museums and Cultural Centers in the 5th Arrondissement

1.    The Panthéon:

This prestigious monument atop the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, is located in Place du Pantheon in the Latin Quarter of the 5th arrondissement. The site on which the Pantheon currently stands was once Mount Lucotitius, on which the Roman city of Lutetia stood. The building was also the original burial place of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of the city.

The construction of the Pantheon came as a result of a vow, King Louis XV took upon himself if he recovered from his illness, he’d build a bigger tributary to the Patron Saint of Paris. Ten years passed before construction began, Abel-François Poisson, the director of the King’s public works chose Jacques-Germain Soufflot to design the structure of the new building in 1755.

Side shot of the Pantheon in Paris
Side shot of the Pantheon in Paris

 Even though construction works began in 1758, Soufflot’s final design was not completed until 1777. Soufflot died in 1780 and was succeeded by his student, Jean-Baptiste Rondelet. Construction of the modified Pantheon was finished in 1790, after the French Revolution began.

The interior of the building hadn’t been decorated at the time of the beginning of the French Revolution. The Marquis de Vilette proposed turning the church into a Temple of Liberty, to follow the model of the Pantheon in Rome. The idea was formally adopted in 1791 and the revolutionary figure, the Comte de Mirabeau, was the first person to have their funeral held in the temple.  

The ashes of Voltaire, the remains of Jean-Paul Marat and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were placed in the Pantheon. Amid the shifts of power within the revolutionaries, Mirabeau and Marat were declared enemies of the state and their remains were removed. In 1795, the French Convention decided that no one is to be buried in the Pantheon if they hadn’t been dead for ten years.

The inscription on the entrance, added after the revolution “A grateful nation honors its great men.” was the first of a series of changes adopted to make the building more solemn. The lower windows and the glass of the upper windows were all covered, most of the ornaments from the exterior were removed and the architectural lanterns and bells were removed from the façade.

During the rule of Napoleon, the Pantheon retained its original function as the final resting place of many notable Frenchmen. A new entrance directly to the crypt, where they were buried was created between 1809 and 1811. Under his reign, the remains of 41 illustrious Frenchmen were buried in the crypt.

Artist Antoine-Jean Gros was commissioned to decorate the interior of the cupola. He combined secular and religious aspects of the church. He showed Saint Genevieve being conducted to Heaven by angels, in the presence of the great leaders of France, starting from Clovis I up to Napoleon and Empress Josephine.  

The reign of Louis XVIII after the Bourbon Restoration saw the return of the Pantheon and its crypt to the Catholic Church and the church was officially consecrated. François Gérard was commissioned in 1822 to decorate the pendentives of the dome with new works representing Justice, Death, the Nation and Fame. Jean-Antoine Gros was commissioned to redo his cupola painting, replacing Napoleon with Louis XVIII. The crypt was shut and closed to the public.

When Louis Philippe I became King after the French Revolution of 1830, the church was again returned to be the Pantheon but the crypt remained closed and no new figures were buried there. The only change taking place was that of the pediment redone with a radiant cross.

When Philippe I was overthrown, the Second French Republic designated the Pantheon as a Temple of Humanity. It was suggested to decorate the building with 60 new murals to honor human progress in all fields. Even though the Foucault Pendulum of Léon Foucault was installed beneath the dome to illustrate the rotation of Earth, it was removed upon complaints of the church.

Following a coup-d’état staged by Louis Napoleon, nephew of the emperor, the Pantheon was again returned to the church under the title “National Basilica”. While the crypt remained closed, the remaining remains of Saint Genevieve were moved into the basilica. Two sets of new sculptures were added to commemorate the events of the saint’s life.

During the Franco-Prussian War, the church suffered damage from German shelling. More damage was incurred in the midst of fighting between the Commune Soldiers and the French Army during the reign of the Paris Commune. The building continued to function as a church during the Third Republic, the interior was decorated with new murals and sculptural groups starting from 1874.

The crypt was opened once more after a decree in 1881 turning the church into a mausoleum again. Victor Hugo was the first person to be buried in the Pantheon afterwards. Subsequent governments approved the burial of literal figures and leaders of the French socialist movement. The Third Republic government decreed that the building be decorated with sculptures representing the golden ages and great men of France.

The Pantheon has been acting as a mausoleum ever since. Recent figures to be interred into the building include Louis Braille, inventor of the Braille writing system. The Resistance leader, Jean Moulin and Nobel prize laureates Marie Curie and Pierre Curie. In 2021, Josephine Baker became the first black woman to be inducted into the Pantheon.

Looking up at the dome you can see the painting of Apotheosis of Saint Genevieve by Jean-Antoine Gros. The only character seen in full is the saint herself surrounded by four groups of kings who played an important role in protecting the church. These start from King Clovis I, the first King to embrace Christianity, up to King Louis XVIII, the last King of the Restoration. The angels in the paintings are carrying the Chartre; the document re-establishing the church after the French Revolution.

The façade and the peristyle are designed following the model of Greek temples. The sculpture on the pediment represent “the nation distributing crowns handed to her by Liberty to great men, civil and military, while history inscribes their names.” The sculpture replaced the early pediment with religious figures and themes.

Figures of distinguished scientists, philosophers and statesmen such as Voltaire and Rousseau are to the left. Napoleon Bonaparte along with soldiers from each military branch as well as students from the École Polytechnique are to the right. The inscription “To the great men, from a grateful nation.”was added when the Pantheon was finished in 1791, removed during Restoration and restored back in 1830.

The inscription on the Pantheon (To the great men, from a grateful nation)
The inscription on the Pantheon (To the great men, from a grateful nation)

The western nave is decorated by paintings, that begin in the Narthex, depicting the lives of Saint Denis, the patron saint of Paris, and Sainte Genevieve, the patroness of Paris. Paintings of the Southern and Northern naves represent the Christian heroes of France. These include scenes from the lives of Clovis, Charlemagne, Louis IX of France and Joan of Arc.

Physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the rotation of Earth by building a 67 meters pendulum under the central dome of the church. The original pendulum is currently displayed at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, while a copy is kept at the Pantheon. The pendulum was designated as a monument historique since 1920.

Entry to the crypt is restricted in the present time, it is only allowed after obtaining a parliamentary act. Of those still buried in the crypt are Victor Hugo, Jean Moulin, Louis Braille and Soufflot. In 2002, a solemn procession was carried out to move the remains of Alexandre Dumas to the Pantheon. His tomb was covered with a blue velvet cloth inscribed with the slogan of the Three Musketeers “All for one, and one for all.”

2.    Arènes de Lutèce:

The Arenas of Lutetia is one of the most important remains from the time when Paris was the ancient Roman city of Lutetia, in addition to the Thermes de Cluny. Located in the 5th arrondissement, this ancient theater was used as an amphitheater of gladiator fights and was built in the 1st century AD to accommodate 15,000 people.

The stage of the theater was 41 meters long and a high wall of 2.5 meters with a parapet surrounded the orchestra. There were 9 niches, more likely used for statues while the lower terraces had five rooms, some of which appear to have been animal cages that opened into the arena.

The higher tiers of the theater were for the seating of slaves, women and the poor while the lower ones were reserved for Roman male citizens. The arena also had good views of the Bièvre and Seine Rivers. An interesting feature of the theater is that the terraced seating covered more than half of the arena’s circumference, which is a feature of ancient Greek theaters rather than Roman ones.

To fend off the city of Lutetia against Barbarian attacks in 275 AD, some of the stones from the frame of the theater were used to reinforce the city’s walls around the Île de la Cité. The arena was later fully restored under Chilperic I in 577. However, the theater later became a cemetery, particularly after the construction of the Philippe Auguste Wall around 1210.

The area was lost in the following centuries, despite the neighborhood carrying its name; les Arènes but the exact location of the arena was unknown. It was when a tramway depot was to be built in the area between 1860 and 1869, to establish Rue Monge under the supervision of Théodore Vaquer that the arena was discovered.

A preservation committee with the name la Société des Amis des Arènes was established with the main mission to preserve the important archeological site. The committee was headed by Victor Hugo and several other prominent intellects. Around a third of the arena’s structure became visible after the Couvent des Filles de Jésus-Christ was demolished in 1883.

A project of restoration of the arena and establishing it as a public square was carried out by the Municipal Council, the public square was opened in 1896. Further excavations and restorations were later carried out by Jean-Louis Capitan up towards the end of the First World War. Despite all these efforts, a great portion of the arena, opposite the stage, was lost in the buildings on Rue Monge.

3.    Institut du Monde Arabe:

Founded in 1980 as a cooperation between France and 18 Arab countries, the AWI aims to provide a secular location for promoting Arab civilization, knowledge, art and aesthetics. The institute in the 5th arrondissement works to research and clarify information regarding the Arab world. As well as promotion of cooperation between France and Arab nations in fields of technology and science.

The idea for the institute was originally proposed in 1973 by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and was funded by the League of Arab States and the French Government. Construction took place between 1981 and 1987 under the guidance of President Francois Mitterrand. This was part of Mitterrand’s “Grand Projets” of his urban development series.

Arab World Institute
Arab World Institute

 The shape of the building is mainly rectangular, the side running along with River Seine follows the curve of the waterway in order to soften the appearance of the shape. Behind the visibly glass wall of the southwest façade is a metallic screen that unfolds with moving geometric motifs. The motifs are made of 240 photo-sensitive, motor-controlled shutters.

The shutters opens and closes automatically to control the amount of light and heat entering the building. This technique is used very often in Islamic architecture with its climate-oriented thinking. The building received the Aga Khan Award for Architectural Excellence in 1989.

The Arab World Institute houses a museum, a library, an auditorium, a restaurant, offices and meeting rooms. The museum showcases objects from the Arab World from Pre-Islam all through to the 20th century and holds special exhibitions as well.

4.    Musée de Cluny:

The National Museum of the Middle Ages is located in the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement. The museum is partially constructed over the 3rd century thermal baths, known as Thermes de Cluny. The museum is divided into two rooms: the frigidarium or the cooling room, part of the Thermes de Cluny, and the Hôtel de Cluny itself.

The Cluny order bought the thermal baths in 1340, after which the first Cluny hotel was built. The building was later rebuilt between the 15th and 16th centuries combining Gothic and Renaissance elements. In the mid-19th century, the building was renovated before being converted into a museum showcasing France’s Gothic past.

The current look of the building is the result of rebuilding between 1485 and 1500, following Jacques d’Amboise taking over the hotel. The hotel saw different royal residents including Mary Tudor, following the death of her husband Louis XII. Mazarin, a papal nuncio, was among several who stayed at the hotel during the 17th century.

The tower of the Hôtel de Cluny was used as an observatory by astronomer Charles Messier, who published his observations in the Messier catalog in 1771. The most diverse usages of the hotel came after the French Revolution. The building was confiscated during the early years of the revolution and for the following three decades served different purposes.

The Hôtel de Cluny was eventually bought by Alexandre du Sommerard in 1832, where he showcased his collection of medieval and Renaissance objects. After his death, ten years later, the collection and the hotel was bought by the state and the building was opened as a museum the following year, with Sommerard’s son as the first curator.

Hôtel de Cluny was classified as a historical monument in 1846 and the thermal baths were later classified in 1862. The present-day gardens were installed in 1971. They include a “forêt de la licorne’ which were inspired by the famous “The Lady and The Unicorn” tapestries housed inside the museum.

The museum’s collection include around 23,000 pieces dating back to the Gallo-Roman times up to the 16th century. The exhibited pieces are about 2,300 pieces from Europe, the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Middle Ages.

The collections can be divided into L’Île-de-la-Cité in France, most of which can be found in the frigidarium. The artifacts from the Gallo-Roman period of the area include the famous Boatmen Pillar. The pillar was built by boatmen, combining inscriptions of dedication to the Roman God Jupiter and Celtic references.

The Beyond France collection includes Coptic art, from Egypt, such as the linen medallion of Jason and Medea. There are three Visigoth crowns in the hotel, in addition to crosses, pendants and hanging chains. Twenty-six crowns were originally discovered between 1858 and 1860, of which only ten survived today.

The Byzantine Art collection include an ivory sculpture called Ariane. The sculpture consists of Ariane, fauns and Angels of Love and dates back to the first half of the 6th century. A Byzantine coffer with mythological creatures, dating back to the rule of the Macedonian emperors in Constantinople, can also be found in the Cluny.

The Romanesque Art collection in the museum include elements from both France and beyond. Elements from France include the Majestic Christ capital created for Saint-Germain-des-Prés church between 1030 and 1040. The Beyond France pieces include works from England, Italy and Spain. Such as an English crosier made from ivory.  

The museum houses several Works from Limoges, a city in southwestern central France. The city was famous for its gold and enameled masterpieces, made with perfection and at affordable prices. The two copper plaques from 1190, one depicting Saint Etienne and the other depicting the Three Wisemen, are found at the Cluny museum.

The collection of Gothic Art from France show the effect of the study of light in art and education. The Cluny is home to many examples of the use of space and the relationship between architecture, sculpture and stained glass. The museum is home to the largest collection of stained glass in France, with pieces dating back as early as the 12th century.

The last collection is the 15th Century Art collection, which shows the increase in demand for artistic pieces back in the 15th century. The most notable of this collection is the six tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn. There are five tapestries representing each of the five senses, while the meaning of the sixth one has been the object of debate for years.

5.    Musée de l’Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris:

The Museum of Public Assistance – Paris Hospitals is a museum dedicated to the history of Parisian hospitals in the 5th arrondissement, on the left bank of the River Seine. The building in which the museum is held; Hôtel de Miramion, was built in 1630 as a private mansion for Christopher Martin. It served as a Catholic school for girls between 1675 and 1794.

The building was then converted into the Central Pharmacy for hospitals in Paris, which was in operation between 1812 and 1974. The establishment of the museum began in 1934 by the municipal authority; Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris. The museum has both permanent and temporary exhibitions with borrowings from other museums as well.

The museum is home to a collection of about 10,000 objects that tell the history of public hospitals in Paris since the Middle Ages. There are French and Flemish paintings, 17th and 18th centuries’ furniture, a collection of pharmaceutical faiences, textiles and medical instruments. Of the collection, around 8% is on display permanently and the rest of the collection is rotated in the temporary exhibitions.

An apothecary garden was created in the courtyard with 65 medicinal plants in 2002. The Museum of Public Assistance – Paris Hospitals closed its doors in 2012 and is currently considering reopening.

6.    Musée Curie:

The Curie Museum on radiological research was established in 1934 in the former laboratory of Marie Curie. The laboratory was built between 1911 and 1914 in the ground floor of the Curie Pavilion of the Institut du Radium. Marie Curie carried out her research in this laboratory from its establishment and until her death in 1934. It was in this lab as well that Curie’s daughter and son-in-law discovered artificial radioactivity and received the 1935 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Marie Curie Museum
Marie Curie Museum

This museum in the 5th arrondissement has a permanent exhibition on radioactivity and its various application with a focus on the medical field. The museum also focuses on The Curies; Marie and Pierre, with some of the most significant research tools and techniques used. There are documents, photographs and archives of The Curies, The Joliot-Curies, the Institut Curie and the history of radioactivity and oncology.

The Curie Museum was renovated in 2012 after a donation by Eve Curie; the youngest daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie. It is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm with free admission.

7.    Musée des Collections Historiques de la Préfecture de Police:

The Museum of Historical Collections of the Prefecture of Police is a museum of the history of the police on rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève in the 5th arrondissement. The museum was originally started by a Prefect; Louis Lépine for the Exposition Universelle in 1900. The collections of the museum have grown significantly since.

Today, there are photographs, evidence, letters and drawings that tell the history behind some of the major events in French history. There are famous criminal cases, arrests made, characters, prisons as well as elements of the daily life such as hygiene and traffic. The museum is open everyday except for Sundays and is free to visit.

8.    Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air:

The Open Air Sculpture Museum is literally an open air sculpture museum. Located along the bank of the River Seine in the 5th arrondissement, this museum is open for free. It was established in 1980 in the Jardin Tino Rossi with the purpose of showcasing the sculpting works of the second half of the 20th century.

Running along beside Jardin des Plantes, between Place Valhubert and Gare d’Austerlitz, the museum goes on for the length of almost 600 meters. There are about 50 sculptures on display in the museum including works by Jean Arp, Alexander Archipenko and César Baldaccini.

9.    Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève:

This public and university library in the 5th arrondissement is the main inter-university library for the different branches of the Paris University. The library is said to have been founded based on the collections of the Abbey of Sainte Genevieve. King Clovis I ordered the building of the Abbey which is near to the present-day church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont.

Founded at the beginning of the 6th century, the site of the Abbey was said to have been chosen by Sainte Genevieve herself. Even though, the saint died in 502 and Clovis himself died in 511, the basilica was only completed in 520. Sainte Genevieve, King Clovis, his wife and his descendants are all buried at the church.

By the 9th century, a larger abbey was built around the basilica and the community around it had grown significantly, including a room used as a scriptorium used for the creation and copying of texts. The first historical record of the Sainte-Genevieve library dates to 831, which mentions the donation of three texts to the abbey. These texts included works of literature, history and theology.

The City of Paris was attacked several times in the 9th century by the Vikings, and the unprotected area of the abbey led to the sacking of the library and the destruction of the books. After that, the library began to reassemble and recreate its collection again, in preparation for the great role it played in European scholarship during the reign of Louis VI.

The doctrines taught by Saint Augustine required every monastery have a room to produce and keep books. Around 1108, the Abbey of Sainte Genevieve was joined with the School of Notre Dame Cathedral and the School of the Royal Palace to form the future University of Paris.

The Library of the Abbey of Sainte Genevieve was already famous throughout Europe by the 13th century. The library was open to students, the French and even foreigners. The library held about 226 works including bibles, commentaries and ecclesiastical history, law, philosophy, science and literature.

Following the production of the first printed books by Gutenberg in the mid-15th century, the library began collecting printed books. An invitation was extended by the University of Paris to several of Gutenberg’s collaborators to establish a new publishing house. During this period, the library continued to produce handwritten books and books illuminated by hand.

However, during the 16th and 17th century, the library’s work was disturbed by the Wars of Religion. The library acquired no more books during this period of time, catalogues of the library’s inventory weren’t issued anymore and even many of its volumes were disposed of or even sold.

During the reign of Louis XIII, Cardinal Francois de Rochefoucauld undertook the revitalization of the library. Rochefoucauld initially saw the library as a weapon to be used in Counter Reformation against Protestantism. He donated 600 volumes from his personal collection to the library.

The director of the library at the time, Jean Fronteau sought the help of prominent writers back then such as Pierre Corneille and librarians such as Gabriel Naudé in updating and expanding the collection of the library. Under the suspicion of being a Jansenist, Fronteau had to leave and was succeeded by Claude du Mollinet.

Du Mollinet gathered Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities in a small museum with the name the Cabinet of Curiosities. The museum also included medals, rare minerals and stuffed animals and was located within the library. By 1687, there were 20,000 books in the library and 400 manuscripts.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the library housed copies of the major works of the Age of Enlightenment, such as the Encyclopédie by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. During this period of time, the library and the Museum of Curiosities were both open to the public. By the mid-18th century, the majority of works between the walls of the library were in all fields of knowledge, in addition to theology.

At the beginning, the French Revolution negatively impacted the Abbey library. The abbey was secularized in 1790 and the entirety of its property was confiscated while the community of monks running the library was broken up. The director of the library at the time, Alexandre Pingré, a famous astronomer and geographer, used his connections in the new government to prevent the disposal of the library’s collections.

Thanks to Pingré efforts, the collection of the library grew following the French Revolution. This was mainly due to the fact that the Abbey library was permitted to take in collections confiscated from other Abbeys. The Abbey Library was granted equal statue as the National Library, the Arsenal Library and the future Mazarine Library and was allowed to draw books from the same sources these libraries did.

The library’s name changed to the National Library of the Pantheon in 1796. The majority of the exhibitions of the Museum of Curiosity were broken up and divided between the National Library and the Museum of Natural History. A handful of objects were still in the possession of the Abbey Library such as the oldest example of astronomical clock.

The 19th century marked a new era for the library. The new director after Pingré, Pierre-Claude Francois Daunou followed Napoleon’s army in traveling to Rome and worked on the transfer of the collections confiscated from the Papal collections to the library. He also confiscated the collections of the nobles who’d fled France during the French Revolution. By the time of Napoleon’s fall, the library’s collection reached a staggering 110,000 books and manuscripts.

However, with the fall of Napoleon and the return of the monarchy, a new debate arose between the administration of the library and that of the prestigious school, Lycée Napoleon, Lycée Henri IV today. The library’s collection had doubled in size and more space was needed to accommodate for this increase. The building of Abbey Sainte-Genevieve was divided between the library and the school.

The battle over space between the two institutions lasted from 1812 until 1842. Despite the great support the library had from prominent intellects and writers such as Victor Hugo, the school won and the library was expelled from the building.

Following this long battle, the government decided to have a new building built specifically for the library and it was the first building of its kind in Paris to be built for this purpose. The new site was previously occupied by Collége Montaigu which was transformed into a hospital after the revolution then a prison. By that time, the building was basically in ruins and was to be demolished before construction works began.

All the books of the library were moved to a temporary library set up in the only surviving building of the Collége Montaigu. Construction works began in 1843 with Henri Labrouste as the lead architect, construction was finished in 1850. The library opened its doors to the public in 1851.

The construction of the new library building was reflective of Labrouste’s study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with evident influence of Florence and Rome. The simple arched windows and bands of sculptures of the base and the façade resembled Roman buildings. The main decorative element of the façade is the list of names of famous scholars.

The interior design of the reading room was a huge step in creating modern architecture. The iron columns and lace-like cast iron arches in the reading room gave an impression of space and lightness, combined with the large windows of the façade. The entry hall is decorated with murals of gardens and forests with busts of French scholars and scientists to symbolize the beginning of the search for knowledge.

The lower floor of the building has the stacks of books to the left with the rare books and office spaces to the right. The staircase is designed and placed in a way that doesn’t occupy any space from the reading room. The design of the building allows for the majority of the books are on display, 60,000 to be exact, and the remainder, 40,000 are in the reserves.

Modernists admire the iron structure of the reading room for the use of high technology in a monumental building. The reading room consists of 16 slender, cast-iron columns that divide the space into two aisles. The columns support the iron arches that carry barrel vaults of plaster reinforced by iron mesh.

The growth of the library’s collection between 1851 and 1930 required additional space to the building. In 1892, a hoist, now on display, was installed to help get the books from the reserves to the reading room. Between 1928 and 1934, the seating area of the room was changed to allow the doubling of the seats to 750 seats.

 The tables in the original plan extended the entire length of the reading room and divided by a central spine of bookshelves. To expand the area, the central bookshelves were removed and tables crossed the room which allowed for more seats to fit. Another increase in the seating capacity came after the computerization of the library’s catalog, adding another 100 seats.

Today, the library contains over a million books and manuscripts. The library is classified as a national library, a university library and a public library. It was classified as a historical monument in 1992.

10. Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle:

Beside being the national natural history museum of France, the National Museum of Natural History is an institution of higher education and part of the Sorbonne University. The main museum with its four galleries and laboratory is located in the 5th arrondissement in Paris. The museum has 14 other sites all over France.

The beginning of the museum goes back to the establishment of the Jardin des Plantes or the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants in 1635. An upper floor was added to the chateau of the garden in 1729 and the Cabinet of Natural History was created. The cabinet initially held the royal collections of zoology and mineralogy.

Under the direction of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, the collection of natural history of the museum was enriched by scientific expeditions. Buffon wrote a 36 volumes’ work called “Natural History” where he contested the religious idea that nature remained the same since creation. He suggested that earth was 75,000 years old and that man arrived only recently.

Scientific research flourished in the museum through the 19th century, mainly under the direction of Michel Eugène Chevreul. He achieved major discoveries in the field of soap and candle-making through his research with animal fats. In the medical field, he was able to isolate creatine and was able to show that diabetics excrete glucose.

The growth of the museum collection and the addition of the new gallery of zoology, the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy drained the museum budget. Due to the constant conflict between the museum and the University of Paris, the museum ceased its teaching efforts and decided to focus on research and its collections.

The museum’s research departments are Classification and Evolution, Regulation, Development and Molecular Diversity. Aquatic Environments and Populations, Ecology and Biodiversity Management. History of Earth, Men, Nature and Societies and Prehistory. The Museum has three diffusion departments, the Galleries of the Jardin des Plantes, Botanical Parks and Zoos and the Museum of Man.

The National Museum of Natural History consists of four galleries and a laboratory:

  • Grand Gallery of Evolution: Opened in 1889, it was remodeled between 1991 and 1994 and opened in its current state. The great central hall is home to marine animals, full-size African mammals such as a rhinoceros gifted to King Louis XV and another hall is dedicated to extinct animals or are in danger of extinction.
  • Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology: Established between 1833 and 1837, it is home to more than 600,000 stones and fossils. Its collections include giant crystals, jars and vestiges or the original royal apothecary of Louis XIV and meteorites from all over the world including a piece of the Canyon Diablo Meteorite.
  • Gallery of Botany: Built between 1930 and 1935, it has a collection of about 7.5 million plants. The collection of the gallery is divided mainly into Spermatophytes; plants reproducing with seeds, and cryptogams; plants that reproduce with spores. The ground floor of the gallery has vestibules for temporary exhibitions.
  • Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy: Built mainly between 1894 and 1897, a new building was added in 1961. The ground floor houses the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy, home to a 1,000 skeleton with their classification. The Gallery of Paleontology on the first and second floors, is home to fossil vertebrates, fossil invertebrates and fossil plants.

11. Montagne Sainte-Geneviève:

This hill overlooking the left bank of the River Seine in the 5th arrondissement is home to several prestigious institutions such as the Pantheon, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and the Ministry of Research. The side streets of this hill is home to many restaurants, cafés and bars. In the Roman era of Lutetia, Paris, the hill was known as Mons Lucotitius.

12. Quartier Latin:

The Latin Quarter is an area divided between the 5th and 6th arrondissements in Paris, on the left bank of the River Seine. The Quarter derives its name from the spoken Latin in the area back during the Middle Ages. In addition to the University of Pairs, the Sorbonne, the quarter is home to many other prestigious educational institutions such as the Paris Science et Lettres University and the Collège de France.

Fountains and Gardens in the 5th Arrondissement

1.    Jardin des Plantes:

The Garden of the Plants is the main botanical garden in France. It is located in the 5th arrondissement and has been designated as a historical monument since 1993. The garden was originally established in 1635 as a medicinal garden, the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants of King Louis XIII.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the garden began to flourish more. An amphitheater was added in 1673 which was allocated or the performance of dissections and the teaching of medical courses. The west and south greenhouses were enlarged to make room for the plants brought back from all over the world by the expeditions of French scientists. The new plants were categorized and studied for their possible culinary and medical uses.

The most prominent garden director is Georges-Louis Leclerc who was responsible for the doubling in size of the garden. The Cabinet of Natural History was enlarged and a new gallery was added to the south. He was also responsible for bringing in a group of skilled botanists and naturalists to work with the garden scientists.

Buffon was also responsible for sending scientific envoys all over the world to collect specimen for the garden and the Natural History Museum. The extensive research and studying of these new plants raised a conflict between the scientists of the Royal Garden and the professors of the Sorbonne regarding Evolution.

The French Revolution marked a new phase for the Jardin des Plantes. The garden was merged with the Cabinet of Natural Sciences to form the Museum of Natural History. The most important addition to the garden after the revolution is the creation of the Menagerie.

The creation of the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes was proposed to rescue the animals confiscated from the royal menagerie of the Palace of Versailles. Other animals were also rescued from the private zoo of the Duke of Orleans and the many public circuses in Paris. The first homes created to house the animals were in the Hôtel de Magné, beside the original garden estate in 1795.

The menagerie went through a tough stage at the beginning, the lack of funding lead to the death of many animals. It was after Napoleon assumed power that proper funding and better structures. The Menagerie also became home to many of the animals acquired during the French expeditions abroad in the early 19th century, such as a giraffe given by the Sultan of Cairo in 1827 to King Charles X.

Scientific research was the main focus of the Jardin during the 19th and 20th centuries. The isolation of fatty acids and cholesterol by Eugene Chevreul and the study of the functions of glycogen in the liver by Claude Bernard were done in the garden laboratories. The Nobel Prize winner, Henri Becquerel, won the Noble Prize in 1903 for his discovery of radioactivity in the same labs as well.

The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy was established in 1898 to house the skeletons collected over the years. In 1877, construction of the Gallery of Zoology was underway. However, due to neglect and lack of maintenance, the gallery was closed. It was replaced by the Zoothêque, built between 1980 and 1986 and is currently only accessible by scientists.

The Zoothêque is now home to 30 million species of insects, 500,000 fish and reptiles, 150,000 birds and 7,000 other animals. The building above it underwent renovations from 1991 to 1994 to house the new Grand Gallery of Evolution.

Jardin des Plantes is divided into several gardens; the Formal Garden, the Greenhouses, the Alpine Garden, the School of Botany Garden, the Small Labyrinth, the Butte Copeaux and the Grand Labyrinth and the Menagerie.

The National Museum of Natural History is part of the Jardin des Plantes, it’s been called the “Louvre of the Natural Sciences”. The museum consists of five galleries: the Grand Gallery of Evolution, the Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology, the Gallery of Botany, the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy and the Laboratory of Entomology.

2.    Fontaine Saint-Michel:

This historical fountain on the entrance to the Quartier Latin in the 5th arrondissement in Place Saint-Michel. The fountain was part of the huge project of the reconstruction of Paris under the supervision of Baron Haussmann during the French Second Empire. Haussmann completed the now Boulevard Saint-Michel, boulevard de Sébastopol-rive-gauche back then in 1855.

This created a new space by Pont-Saint-Michel which Haussmann asked Gabriel Davioud, architect of the service of promenades and plantations of the prefecture to design a fountain for. Davioud designed the façades of the buildings surrounding the fountain in addition to the design of the fountain itself, so as to the entire square looks beautiful and coherent.

The design of the fountain was an interesting work of art. Davioud designed the structure as a four-leveled fountain which is similar to a triumph arch and four Cornithian columns acting as a frame to the central niche. A feature of the French Renaissance is atop the main cornice in the form of a framed inscribed tablet.

The design of the fountain was also as the water coming from under the rock carrying the body of Saint Michael spills into a series of shallow bowed basins. The basin into which the water eventually gathers has a curved front edge and is on street level.

In the original plan, Davioud’s plan was to place a feminine structure representing Peace, in the middle of the fountain. However, in 1858, the statue of Peace was replaced with a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte, which drew great opposition from Napoleon’s opposition. Later that year, Davioud replaced the Napoleon statue with one of the Archangel Michael wrestling the devil, which was well-received.

The construction of the statue began in 1858 and was completed and inaugurated in 1860. The center of the above level was initially decorated with colored geometric motifs made of marble. These motifs were later replaced in 1862 or 1863 with a bas-relief of scrolls and children instead.

Fontaine Saint-Michel suffered damage several times after its construction. The first was after the capture of Napoleon III during the French-German War and a mob wanted to attack the fountain and deface the eagles and inscriptions on the upper part.

The French Revolution as well as the time of the Paris Commune also saw the destruction of the lead eagles on top the fountain as well as the symbols of the Second Empire.  Davioud carried out repairs afterwards in 1872 and another series of restorations took place in 1893 where the imperial arms were replaced by those of the City of Paris.

Streets and Squares in the 5th Arrondissement

1.    Rue Mouffetard:

This lively street in the 5th arrondissement is one of Paris’ oldest neighborhoods, dating back to Neolithic times when it was a Roman road. It is mostly a pedestrian avenue; being closed to motor traffic most of the week. It’s home to restaurants, shops, cafés and a regular open-air market at its southern end.

2.    Place du Panthéon:

Named after the prestigious monument, the Pantheon, this square is located in the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement. The Pantheon is located east of the square while Rue Soufflot is located to the west of the square.

3.    Square René Viviani:

This square is named after the first French Minister of Labor; René Viviani. It is adjacent to the Church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, in the 5th arrondissement. The space of the square had different functions over the years. Once a cemetery to a 6th century basilica, monastic buildings and refectory of the Clunesian priory of St. Julien and at a time, occupied by the annexes of the Hôtel-Dieu.

The clearing and establishment of the square was completed in 1928 and it has three distinctive features. The first is the Saint Julien Fountain, erected in 1995, was the work of sculptor Georges Jeanclos. The fountain is dedicated to the legend of St. Julien the Hospitaller; an old legend with a curse by witches, a talking deer, mistaken identity, a gruesome crime, unlikely coincidences and divine intervention.

The second notable feature of the square is the oldest tree planted in Paris. The locust tree, scientifically known as Robinia pseudoacacia, is said to have been planted by its scientist who named it; Jean Robin in 1601. Even though there are doubts about its true age, the tree is accepted as the oldest tree in Paris and continues to bloom, after all this time.

The last interesting feature of the square is the scattering of pieces of carved stone at various spots. These stone pieces are remnants of the 19th century restoration of the Notre-Dame de Paris. Some of the damaged pieces of the exterior limestone were replaced by newer pieces and the old ones were scattered around the Square Rene Viviani.

4.    Boulevard Saint-Germain:

One of the two main streets of the Latin Quarter, this street is on the Rive Gauche of the Seine. The boulevard traverses the 5th, 6th and the 7th arrondissements and derives its name from the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The area around the boulevard is called the Faubourg Saint-Germain.  

Saint-Germain Boulevard was one of the major projects of Baron Haussmann’s urban renovation plan of the French capital. The boulevard was established to replace several smaller streets and numerous landmarks were removed to pave the way. Through the 17th century, it became home to many hôtels particuliers, this aristocratic reputation continued all through to the 19th century.

Since the 1930s, Boulevard Saint-Germain has been the hub for intellects, philosophers, writers and creative minds. It continues to perform the same role today, all while housing many high-end shopping trademarks such as Armani and Rykiel. The boulevard’s location in the Latin Quarter means it is also a hub for students, French and foreigners, to gather.

5.    Boulevard Saint-Michel:

Along with Boulevard Saint-Germain, they both constitute the two main streets of the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement. Boulevard is mostly a tree-lined street, marking the boundary between the 5th and 6th arrondissements, with odd-numbered buildings on the side of the 5th arrondissement and the even-numbered buildings on the side of the 6th.

Construction of Boulevard Saint-Michel began 1860, as a major part of Haussmann’s plan for urban development. Many streets had to be removed for the construction to take place such as the rue des Deux Portes Saint-André. The name of the boulevard is derived from a gate destroyed in 1679 and the Saint-Michel market in the same area.

You might think that the street is dominated by students and activism, due to its location in the Latin Quarter. However, lately tourism has flourished in the boulevard, with many designer shops and souvenir shops replacing the small bookstores along the boulevard. The northern part of the boulevard is home to cafés, cinemas, bookstores and clothes shops.

6.    Rue Saint-Séverin:

Largely a touristic street, this rue is located to the north of the Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement. The street is one of Paris’ oldest streets, dating back to the establishment of the quarter in the 13th century. The street today is home to restaurants, cafés, souvenir shops and one of Paris’ oldest churches; Église Saint-Séverin, is located halfway in the middle of the street.

7.    Rue de la Harpe:

This relatively calm, cobblestoned street in the Latin Quarter of the 5th arrondissement is largely a residential street. The eastern side of the Rue de la Harpe, with odd numbers, is home to some buildings from the Louis XV era. While the buildings on the opposite side are dominated by architectural designs dating to the era of urban development.

The touristic shops in the street are the ones closest to the river, close to the rue’s southern end. The rue existed since the Roman times, when it directly ran to Boulevard Saint-Germain before it was cut by the construction of Boulevard Saint-Michel. Rue de la Harpe is named after one of the Von Harpe family members; a prominent family in the 13th century.

8.    Rue de la Huchette:

The street with the highest restaurant concentration in the city of Paris, Rue de la Hauchette is one of the oldest streets on the left bank of the Seine in the 5th arrondissement. The rue existed since 1200, as Rue de Laas, which was adjacent to a walled vineyard known as Clos du Laas. During the period of urban development, the property was divided, sold and the Rue de la Huchette was born.

Since the 17th century, the Rue was known for its taverns and meat-roasters. Today, the street is a popular tourist destination and has a large number of predominantly Greek restaurants. The street is almost exclusively pedestrian. 

Top Hotels in the 5th Arrondissement

1.    Port Royal Hotel (8 Boulevard de Port-Royal, 5th arr., 75005 Paris, France):

Right in the center between Paris’ most notable landmarks, Port Royal Hotel is about 2.6 Kilometers away from Notre-Dame Cathedral and 3.8 Kilometers away from the Louvre Museum. In this cozy hotel, the rooms are simple and practical. It is most ranked for its great location and cleanliness.

Several accommodation options are available. A Double Room with Shared Bathroom, for a two-night stay, will be 149 Euros plus taxes and charges, with the option of free cancelation. An extra 10 Euros can be added if you’d like to enjoy their continental breakfast.

A Standard Twin Room with two single beds and an ensuite bathroom, will be 192 Euros plus taxes and charges. This price is for a two-night stay and includes free cancelation but not their breakfast, which is another 10 Euros if you’d like to try it.

2.    Hotel André Latin (50-52 Rue Gay-Lussac, 5th arr., 75005 Paris, France):

Enjoy warm feels with a good view in one of the rooms at André Latin. With a central location, it’s close to many favorite places. Just 5 minutes away from the Panthéon and 10 minutes away from the Jardin des Plantes. Several metro stations; Luxembourg RER and Port-Royal RER are also nearby.

A Double Room for a two-night stay, one double, including free cancelation and payment at the property will 228 Euros with taxes and charges. A Twin Room with two single beds will be the same cost. An extra 12 Euros can be paid if you choose to enjoy breakfast at the hotel.

3.    Hotel Moderne Saint Germain (33, Rue Des Ecoles, 5th arr., 75005 Paris, France):

Located right at the heart of the Quatier Latin, Hotel Moderne Saint Germain is just 10 minutes away from Jardin des Plantes and 15 minutes away from Jardin du Luxombourg. Nearby metro station offer transportation to all the different places of Paris. The beautiful touch of colors in each room help to make you feel comfortable and at home.

A Superior Double Room with a double bed, with free cancelation and payment at the property will be 212 Euros plus taxes and charges for two nights. The same offer including the hotel’s amazing breakfast, will be 260 Euros for a two-night stay. A Superior Twin Room with two single beds will be 252 Euros without breakfast and 300 Euros with breakfast.

Top Restaurants in the 5th Arrondissement

1.    La Table de Colette (17 rue Laplace, 75005 Paris France):

With both vegan and non-vegan options, La Table de Colette was dubbed by the Michelin foundation as an “eco-responsible” restaurant. It was praised for using seasonal produce with lots of vegetables and not much meat. La Table serves French, European and healthy cuisine, they come at a great price range; between 39 Euros to 79 Euros.

La Table de Colette offer several tasting menus. From a three-course tasting menu, to a five-course tasting menu and a seven-course tasting menu. Several TripAdvisor reviewers loved the professional service even though the place was full. One reviewer even said that you never know what to expect when you’re tasting, you just try it and be amazed by the taste!

2.    Karavaki Au Jardin du Luxembourg (7 rue Gay Lussac metro Luxembourg, 75005 Paris France):

A taste of Greece in the heart of Paris, Karavaki Au Jardin du Luxembourg specializes in Mediterranean, Greek and healthy deliciousness. Praised for presenting the best Greek food in Paris, there are vegetarian friendly and vegan options as well. Karavaki is a family-run restaurant which adds to the warm and inviting atmosphere welcoming you.

TripAdvisor reviewer liked the fresh organic and high quality products used in the dishes. The food was perfectly cooked, seasoned and most importantly, not greasy at all. Many of them stated they would definitely go back to Karavaki again and again.

3.    Respiro, Trattoria, Pizzeria (18 rue Maitre Albert, 75005 Paris France):

In the mood for Italian food in the heart of Paris? This is the right place for you! Specializing in Italian, Mediterranean and Sicilian cuisine, Respiro also offers vegetarian friendly options. With high ratings for food, service and value, the dishes also have a great price range; from 7 Euros to 43 Euros. You can give the Ciccio and Faruzza a try, or perhaps the Parmiggiana Melanzane and of course, their pizza.

4.    Ya Bayté (1 rue des Grands Degrés, 75005 Paris France):

The sumptuous dishes of the Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisines, entwine with great hospitality and the friendliest setting at Ya Bayte. All the traditional Lebanese dishes, including Tabboule, Kebbe, Kafta and Fatayir are made and served with so much warmth and love. All for a great price range between 5 Euros and 47 Euros for a dish of mixed grilled meats for two people.

One TripAdvisor reviewer said they enjoyed their hearty meals and that the fresh lemonade would help wash away all the calories. Even Lebanese people living in Paris swear by Ya Bayte as presenting them all the dishes they miss from their home country. Ya Bayte truly does mean “My Home” and it is a taste of home for many.

Top Cafés in the 5th Arrondissement

1.    Jozi Café (3 rue Valette, 75005 Paris France):

Ranked at number 1 on the Coffee&Tea in Paris list on TripAdvisor, this cozy little café close to the Sorbonne and serves great food with friendly service and low prices. Jozi Café also offers you vegetarian and vegan friendly options. Their price range between 2 Euros and 15 Euros is another welcoming factor. Pop in for a light brunch or just a delicious ice cream!

2.    A. Lacroix Patissier (11 quai de Montebello, 75005 Paris France):

A delightful café where you can take a break from everything, enjoy yummy French pastries with the perfect espresso. Their cakes in particular are very special, with a reviewer describing them on TripAdvisor as a surprise every single time. A great price range of 4 Euros to 12 Euros also offers you great vegetarian friendly dishes.

3.    Strada Café Monge (24 rue Monge, 75005 Paris France):

At number 19 on TripAdvisor’s list for Coffee&Tea in Paris, this cute little café also offers vegetarian friendly, vegan and gluten free options. You can enjoy a tasty omelet with a coffee for a light breakfast or even brunch. The place is frequented by students of the nearby Sorbonne.

If you have any experiences to share that took place in the 5th arrondissement, please don’t hesitate to share it with us!