We went to a guided tour of the quartier latin, organised by Gergö’s French course. We met in front of Notre Dame cathedral, where we heard about the history of Paris. I thought our guide, Thierry, was very good. He managed to set the scene in an interesting way. Plus he spoke slowly and clearly – I understood most of what he said.
As is common with these guided tours, there were a few of those stories that make for great anecdotes but are probably apocryphal. My favourite was that surgeons were always considered craftspeople, not academics. They cut after all, like seamstresses do. Medicine was completely separate and much more highly regarded. That was until King Louis had to have butt surgery. The surgeon was successful and he so grateful that he elevated them to the status of academics, and now they are considered real doctors. (You can compare what I remembered form the tour to this write up of King Louis’ butt surgery)
I’m not particularly interested in architecture. I mean I like to look at interesting or beautiful buildings but I can’t usually tell anything about it. During the tour our guide took us to a church that nicely demonstrated the development of gothic architecture. The church is smack dab in the middle of the small streets of Quartier Latin on the South Bank. You know the streets, lined with souvenir shops and restaurants that advertise tourist menus with photographs. And the church starts out with early gothic architecture, with fairly stout big columns in the front that get progressively finer, thinner, higher and fancier as you progress. At the back they resemble palm trees and they are called palmiers as well.
We had a look at the museum of medieval history – I’ve visited it before. It’s famous for its mysterious tapestry of a woman with a unicorn. It’s also a beautiful and hôtel. Hôtel means hotel in French, but also townhouse. In this case it was a townhouse belonging to an Abby of the Cluny order.
The area is called Quartier Latin for the many universities and colleges. Colleges used to be sponsored by cities, countries or other entities as places were the students who didn’t have a fortune would live and eat. A lot of streets with place names in Paris apparently date back to those colleges. Lots of foreign students lived in those colleges and the lingua franca was Latin, hence the name.
Unfortunately it started to rain within minutes of the tour and it only got worse during. We managed to find shelter under trees and inside the church, but it was still a pretty damp affair. Gergö had warned me that Thierry likes to talk a lot (a good characteristic in a tour guide, I believe) and we might run longer than anticipated. Because of the foul weather the tour was cut short instead. It ended with the above mentioned story of King Louis’ butt surgery which I think is a fitting ending to a tour of the Quartier Latin.