The Place de la Sorbonne is lined with lovely little cafés. Try the Tabac de la Sorbonne, which has a great view of the Sainte Ursule chapel
La Sorbonne was founded in the mid-13th century in medieval Paris. Over the years ‘La Sorbonne’ has actually described various different things, but now it refers to the historic University of Paris, but more specifically the building itself. Today you can walk around the university buildings, enjoying the grand façades and the irreverent student atmosphere that pervades the place.
That rather more relaxed student vibe is a relatively recent development. During the 16th century La Sorbonne took a central role in the theological struggle between Catholics and Protestants. It was a stronghold for Catholic, conservative attitudes and stood against King Francis I’s relative tolerance of French Protestants.
It was traditionalist then, but La Sorbonne has not always been in the good books of the ruling powers. During the French Revolution it was suppressed, but it was reopened by Napoleon in 1808. And then in 1968 it had its most famous episode.
More than 20,000 teachers, students and supporters marched towards the university in protest against the heavy presence of police, and all hell broke loose. Police charged with batons and tear gas; protesters retaliated with paving stones. Street fighting went on all night when students barricaded the streets of the Latin Quarter with cars, wood and cobblestones. The students eventually occupied the university, declaring it the “people’s university!”
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