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La Sorbonne

Founded in 1253 to give impoverished students the opportunity to study theology, this is one of the world's most famous universities.

TravelCurious Tip

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!”

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Paris
The Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter represents the essence of intellectual Paris, a place to unwind amidst the rarefied atmosphere of the 5th and 6th arrondissements.
Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre Dame, perched on an island in the heart of Paris, is one of the finest cathedrals in the world.
Île de la Cité
This island in the middle of the River Seine is the historical heart of Paris.
Initially designed to outdo the great architecture of Rome and London's churches, the Panthéon later became a place of interment for distinguished French figures.
Place St-Michel Fountain
One of the city's most well-known meeting places, the statue depicts the archangel Michael vanquishing the Devil.
Shakespeare and Co Bookshop
A legendary meeting place and boarding-house for many aspiring writers. Stocks everything from Shakespeare to Joyce.

Related Tours

The Latin Quarter: Parisian Authors & Thinkers
The Latin Quarter is one of Paris' most quirky and interesting neighbourhoods. It is an ambient juxtaposition of medieval backstreets, churches and grand Haussmman-style boulevards, which were built in the 19th century as part of Paris’ modernisation, the area takes its name from medieval times when the majority of local residents were clergy or students who spoke Latin. 

  • Begin at Île de la Cité and see the stunning Notre Dame.
  • Experience the artistic haunts of Sartre, Hemingway, and Camus.
  • Get off the beaten track at Paris’ best-hidden squares and parks.
  • Learn all about the area’s post-Medieval history.
  • End your tour in one of the most beautiful parks in the world - the Luxembourg Gardens.
This three-hour walking tour begins on the edge of the Latin Quarter, on the island Île de la Cité, the city’s historical medieval epicentre. Here you will see the famous Notre Dame and will explore some other architecturally notable sights on the island, including the Conciergerie, Place Dauphine, and Square du Vert-Galan, before venturing across the distinctively Parisian Pont Neuf bridge into the heart of the Latin Quarter.

The Latin Quarter was the scene of the student uprising in May ’68, even though its medieval facade strikes a strong contrast to its liberal, intellectual and artistic side. On Boulevard St-Michel and Boulevard St Germain, you will find many cafes where the likes of Camus, Orwell, and Hemingway passed hours discussing philosophy and literature. The area is also rich with interesting book shops, most notably the Shakespeare and Company - a legendary meeting place and boarding house for many aspiring writers.

Your tour guide will direct you through the neighbourhood’s best cultural haunts: experience the wonders of medieval backstreets that are adorned with theatres and jazz clubs, unchanged since their post-war beginnings, and see the narrowest street in Paris. Visit the city’s oldest church in St Julien le Pauvre and see one of the most famous academic institutions in the world - La Sorbonne. Next stop off at the Panthéon, a mausoleum where many distinguished French figures such as Voltaire, Braille, and Rousseau were laid to rest. Then wander through the grounds of the stunning Luxembourg Gardens and Palace, the perfect place to people watch, enjoy nature, and feel like a true Parisian.


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