Medieval places  - Left Bank

Along this stroll, we will stop especially at:

Rue de Nevers
Cluny Museum
Rue Clovis
Rue Valette - Collège de Fortet
Rue Galande
Church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre
Church of Saint-Séverin 
Rue de la Parcheminerie

stroll in old medieval Paris left bank detailed itinerary

Rue de Nevers

From the Pont-Neuf, we cross the Quai des Grands-Augustins and enter below a large porch that opens onto Rue de Nevers, a dark and narrow old street from the 13th century.

We should stop below the porch and look up at the vault with a text written in 1638 by a young poet  Claude Lepetit in 1638 about Ridiculous Paris. It says that the Pont-Neuf used to be a den of thieves. I can easily imagine them coming from this old street, armed with a nerve of ox to scare and rob the lost passer-by.
In the 13th century, this street was lining the Hôtel de Nesles and the Grands-Augustins convent. At the end of the street, this is a remains of Philip-Augustus wall.

rue de nevers
rue de Nevers Atget

Rue de Nevers
Atget -

Turn left into rue de Nesles, left into rue Dauphine and opposite into rue de l'Ancienne-Comédie. Turn right into rue Saint-Jacques, then left into boulevard Saint-Germain. Walk around the Musée de Cluny, which entrance is rue du Sommerard.

Musée de Cluny

the Lady and the Licorn French school book Lagarde and Michard

The ruins of the Gallo-Roman Thermal Baths can be seen from boulevard Saint-Germain when walking around the museum. They were built around the beginning of 3rd century. Later, the Gallo roman palace became the residence of the Frankish kings. Around 1330, it became the property of the Abbots of Cluny until the Revolution.
In 1833, Alexandre de Sommerard, who had a passion for the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, rented part of the place to store his collections. On his death, the City of Paris bought altogether his collections, the hotel and thermal baths and turned it into a museum.

Take the time to visit the artworks of  Musée de Cluny
For my generation, the Lady and the Licorn playing a portative organ can remind French class and the cover of the French book…

Musee de cluny
Musee de cluny Atget

Musée de Cluny
Atget - 1903
(Musée Carnavalet)

Sainte Geneviève

When leaving the museum, take rue du Pain Levé opposite and turn left into rue des Ecoles and right into rue des Carmes, up to the Pantheon. On Rue Clovis, the distinguished lycée Henri IV contains some vestiges of the abbey of Sainte-Geneviève, a major abbey in its time as rich and powerful as Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

From this time, remain the former monks' refectory built at the beginning of the 13th century (now the lycée's chapel) and the Clovis Tower

The first sanctuary of Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, was founded by Clovis in 508. This sanctuary was later replaced in the 12th century by a church which became the current church of Saint-Etienne du Mont. The remains of Sainte-Geneviève coffin, which were saved from the sacking of the revolutionaries, are kept under a copper shrine.

Leaving the church, take rue Valette from the Place du Panthéon.

En sortant du musée, prendre en face la rue du Pain Levé et prendre à gauche la rue des Ecoles et à droite la rue des Carmes, jusqu'au Panthéon. Rue Clovis, le prestigieux lycée englobe quelques vestiges de l’abbaye Sainte-Geneviève, grande rivale à son époque de Saint-Germain-des-Prés par sa richesse et sa taille.

De cette époque subsistent essentiellement l’ancien réfectoire des moines construit au début du XIIIème siècle (actuellement chapelle du lycée) et la tour Clovis.

Le premier sanctuaire abbatial de la Sainte patronne de Paris fut fondé par Clovis en 508. autour des reliques de Sainte Geneviève. Ce sanctuaire fut remplacée au XIIème par une église qui devint l'église actuelle de Saint-Etienne du Mont où les quelques restes du sarcophage soustraits au saccage des révolutionnaires sont rassemblés sous une châsse de cuivre.

Leaving the church, take rue Valette from the Place du Panthéon.

Lycee Henri IV 23 rue Clovis ancienne abbaye Sainte Genevieve fondee par Clovis en 511 Atget

Lycée Henri IV  - 23, rue Clovis
Ancienne Abbaye Sainte Geneviève
fondée par Clovis en 511
1900 Atget

Lycee Henri IV 23 rue Clovis

Rue Valette

Just opposite the Collège Sainte-Barbe, founded in 1460 and oldest school in France, was the Collège de Fortet, built around 1397, of which remains a tower with a spiral staircase, known as Calvin's Tower.
The young Calvin studied theology at the college. Close to the rector of the university, Nicolas Cop, with whom he shared his reformist ideas, Calvin wrote for him in 1533 his inaugural speech for a reform of the university. This caused a scandal and Cop barely escaped arrest by the police. As for Calvin, he fled at night from his room at the Fortet College. Legend has it that this picturesque escape took place via this famous tower and from there via the roofs.
By a strange coincidence, it was at the Collège de Fortet, in 1585, that the Holy League was formed raising violent calls to fanaticism.

The demolition of the buildings next to the tower allowed Atget to photograph the tower from the front, where a sort of lodge with a sloping roof can be clearly seen at the top. Nowadays, the tower is only visible from the side in the small courtyard of 19-21 rue Valette.

Calvin's tower college de Fortet courtyard 21 rue Valette
la tour Jean Calvin ancen college Fortet 21 rue Valette Atget

La Tour Jean Calvin - ancien Collège Fortet
21, rue Valette
Atget - 1922
(Musée Carnavalet)

Rue Galande

Continue along rue Valette and through rue des Carmes to reach place Maubert. Take rue Lagrange then rue Galande.

In 1898, in his book about Saint-Séverin neighborhood, J.K Huysmans wrote about rue Galande:

« Some very old houses remain. The 29th, used by a religious shop and a store of windowpanes; the 31st, by a merchant of leather have kept their old gabled roofs held up by carved wooden consoles."

Huysmans was a contemporary of Atget. The two old gabled roofs and their consoles can be seen in his photograph.
Nowadays, only the gable of 29, which dates from around 1480, has kept its wooden console. Perhaps these very old houses could deserve the same attention as those on the rue François Miron (right bank).

old houses rue Galande
maisons hotel des Pays reunis rue Galande Atget

Maisons, hôtel des Pays réunis,
rue Galande
Atget - 1899

Before reaching the Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church, let's stop at 42, rue Galande where one can see, above the Art et Essai cinema, a 14th century stone bas-relief in the wall. This oldest sign in Paris is based on the legend of Saint Julien l'Hospitalier who was a boatman. He is shown in a boat with his wife, passing Christ across a river.

42 rue Galande stone bas relief Saint julien l'Hospitalier


I love this small church; My mother  used to take me for a walk in the little garden around it to show me the oldest tree in Paris, a robinier tree with a concrete cane to relieve its weight of more than four centuries. The first church, built in the 6th century, was sacked by the Normans and rebuilt in the 12th century.

The exceptional closure of the church and garden for rat control on the day of my last walk took me back to the old days when rodents infested Paris so much that a nearby street, rue de l'hôtel Colbert, was called rue des Rats.

When Atget photographed Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre in 1898 and 1899, the church was still surrounded by old houses. The photographs taken by Atget make it easier to understand its description by J.K. Huysmans, in 1898...
"At the back of the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, the stinking courtyard is shapeless. In disorder around the small church, they stand with their facades covered with downpipes and rusty lead cages. The windows hidden behind iron bars look over the small church and the yard where few hens are pecking at the soil. Near a well, a graceless old man is guarding the entrance."

The church built around 1160 is indeed one of the two Paris oldest churches with Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Its small size is due to a partial destruction done during the 18th century, when the neglected church was almost a ruin. The old Gothic facade, two of the original bays in the nave and the southern sides were demolished. In order to close the church, a new facade was added. The well standing today outside was initially in the nave. On the left side of the new facade, one can see some remains of the old 13th century facade.
I think that the special atmosphere of the church is precisely due to its small size. The interior of the Greek catholic church looks almost intimate. I remember when I was a child, how fascinated I was by the mysterious
iconostasis and the heavy red curtains masking the choir. 

Though the church is often closed, one can discover it during concerts regularly organised.

Saint julien le Pauvre
Saint julien le Pauvre Atget

Atget - 1898

(Getty Museum)

church sait julien le pauvre
saint julien le pauvre Atget

Atget - 1904

(Musée Carnavalet)

Rue de la Parcheminerie

Continue on rue Saint-Jacques behind the church of Saint-Severin and turn right onto rue de la Parcheminerie.

The streets around Saint-Séverin church are from the 13th century.

The name of the rue de la Parcheminerie (the parchment makers Street), less known and less busy than the close rue de la Huchette, evokes the scribes, illuminators and bookbinders who were living and working in this area.

In 1462, the poet Francois Villon was often involved in street quarrels. I can imagine him trying to escape the Louis XI police and hiding behind an old door, like this one photographed by Atget.

These times are gone forever like the old door replaced by a modern door hotel; only its shape is strangely evoking the shape of the old door … More than one hundred years ago, J. K. Huysmans was already anticipating the disappearance of the old houses in Saint-Séverin neighborhood.

door 22 rue de la parcheminerie
old door 22 rue de la Parcheminerie Atget

Old door
22, rue de la Parcheminerie
Atget - 1906


church Saint severin pillar deambulatory

The church was initially a chapel containing the tomb of Séverin, hermit of 6thcentury. Destroyed by the Normans, the church was rebuilt in the 12thcentury and became later an important parish. It deserved to be visited. Personally, I feel the same emotion each time I see the pillar of the deambulatory, expanding like a palm tree under the soft light of the stained glass windows. The stone tree seems to rotate on its axis and when its top is reaching the ceiling, it forms a petrified bunch of branches.

rue des Pretres saint severin
rue des pretres saint severin Atget

Rue des Prêtres Saint-Séverin
Atget - 1898


Texte / Photos : Martine Combes

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