Sunday, January 25, 2009

Student souvenirs: La Sorbonne

I have had the plesure of spending four wonderful years in a palace dedicated to knowledge : La Sorbonne. The buildings are beautiful (though not very practical…) and the history of the university is both inspiring and fascinating.

In 1250 the Parisian academia left l’Ile de la Cité, and teaching was hence organised at La Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. The Church imposed latin as spoken language on the premises– whereof the name Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter).

Founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon and Saint Louis, the first aim of the Sorbonne was to welcome destitute theology students. The university was rebuilt between 1626 and 1642 upon the wishes of Cardinal Richelieu. It was closed down for several years starting from the Revolution, and teaching was only taken up again in 1821. In 1884 was put down the first stone of the new, expanded university. Nénot, architect in command, imagined La Sorbonne as we know it today.

One of the treasures that are housed by La Sorbonne is the Library (photo above). How can you not feel inspired when sitting and reading in such a beautiful place? Another pearl is The Large Amphithéâtre. The latter is where graduates receive their diplomas. In The Large Amphithéâtre, that has space for some 3000 people, are statues of Sorbon, Descartes, Lavoisier, Rollin, Pascal and Richelieu. In the dome you can see symbols of Law, Medicine, Science, Litterature and Theology – the five faculties that constituted the university in 1889. Above the scene is the famous and symbolic painting “le bois sacré” (the sacred woods) by Puvis de Chavannes. The beautiful piece of art measures 25,60 m x 4,50 m.

Of the former Sorbonne, there remains only the chapel, built by Lemercier between 1635 and 1642. The Cardinal's tomb, by Girardon, is located inside.

La Sorbonne is still the most famous university in France. It is worth visiting, but a visit is not necessarily easy to organise. You can try by writing to If you are a group, your chances of success are certainly greater than if you are a single person. Need I say that writing in French would be a smart move..?

Métro Cluny La Sorbonne (line 10)

1 comment: