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.
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.
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.)
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.