The former Jussieu Campus

Universities in France are often known by their initials. A student who was enrolled at the UPMC between 1974 and 2017 would have called it exactly that, “UPMC”, and would have assumed that you knew what the initials meant. Such a student would also have expected you to be duly impressed, since the UPMC was often rated as one of the best universities in France and even in the world.

UPMC stood for Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie and was also known as Université de Paris VI, i.e. the sixth of the thirteen universities that existed in Paris after the whole system was reorganized in 1971. The UPMC was named after Pierre Curie (1859-1906) and his wife Marie Curie (1867-1934), both of whom were Nobel Prize winning scientists and pioneers in the study of radioactivity.

In 2018, the UPMC was officially merged with the Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV), to form the new Sorbonne Université.

While UPMC students were rightfully proud of their university, they were not so proud of its location, the Jussieu Campus — now officially the Campus Pierre-et-Marie-Curie.

Zamansky Tower

This off-putting campus, though less than a kilometer from the traditional Sorbonne building in the Latin Quarter, was developed mainly in the 1950s and 60s without much regard for the people who would have to teach or study there. Many of the buildings in this campus were built on stilts over a wholesale wine market that was still in operation at the time. This means that strong winds often build up under the buildings.

The original buildings, including the 24-storey Zamansky Tower (also known as the Jussieu Tower), made ample use of asbestos, which was supposed to help prevent fires. Unfortunately asbestos was later found to cause cancer, so it had to be removed at great expense. This often meant stripping the entire building down to its metal and concrete frame and then rebuilding it with other materials.

Another not-so-endearing feature of the Jussieu Campus is that the front is bounded by a dry moat which is ten meters deep. Entrance to the campus is over pedestrian bridges which can easily be closed off, for instance in the event of student protest demonstrations.

Entrance to Métro Jussieu (lines 7 and 10)

The campus was originally named after the French botanist Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (pronunciation here), who lived from 1748 to 1836 and made fundamental advances in the classification of flowering plants while he was professor of botany at the nearby Jardin des Plants. The street, square and Métro station in front of the campus are still named after Jussieu, even after his name was removed from the campus itself.

The Zamansky Tower was named after Marc Zamansky (1916-1996), a mathematician who was a member of the French Resistance during the Second World War. He was arrested by the Germans in 1943 and imprisoned in a concentration camp until the end of the war. Later he became a professor of mathematics and was Dean of the Faculty of Sciences in Paris in the 1960s.

For many years the UPMC shared the unpleasant Jussieu Campus with the Diderot University, aka Université Paris VII. But the Diderot University has since been relocated to a new campus originally called Paris Rive Gauche, now the Campus Grands Moulins near the François-Mitterrand Library. (In 2019 the Diderot University merged with the Descartes University to form the new Université de Paris.)

Mitterrand président

In a café near Place Jussieu, some of the walls are papered with historic newspapers from bygone decades. I happened to be sitting next to the paper from the year 1981 announcing that François Mitterrand had been elected president of France. (See my posts Mitterrand and the Panthéon and Le Paris de Mitterrand.)

My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on the 5th arrondissement of Paris.

5 thoughts on “The former Jussieu Campus”

  1. Interesting. We’ve visited the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Jardin Tino-Rossi and spent hours in the Jardin des Plantes but never visited the University right next to all of them. It doesn’t sound like one of the highlights of Paris unless you’re a student. We did stay in a hotel across from the Sorbonne around the corner from that statue of Statue Auguste Comte that students are always giving a traffic cone hat on Place de la Sorbonne. It’s a fun area but farther from the Jussieu campus. If you want to stay in the center of Paris, it’s great.

    1. Thanks, Sally. The Jussieu campus is definitely not one of the highlights of Paris, not even for students.
      Giving the Comte statue a traffic cone hat sounds like fun, though Comte himself had no sense of humor and would have been outraged. Fortunately traffic cones had not yet been invented during his lifetime.

  2. Yes indeed a nice trivia of Paris, have many friends French and Franco-American who taught there. While I was involved with alumnus groups in Paris such as the American University Clubs of France.

  3. What a fascinating, in-depth look into the Paris universities! I was well-aware that there are many in the city, but I did little idea of how they’re classified, let alone their histories. I’ve passed by the Jussieu neighborhood, although I didn’t stay in it long enough to learn more about it, so I really appreciate your detailed post on it all. Can’t wait to read more!

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