The Sorbonne

The name “Sorbonne” originally referred to a college created in 1253 by Robert de Sorbon, the chaplain and confessor of King Louis IX of France — the king who is now better known as Saint Louis because he killed so many infidels in the Crusades.

Later the word “Sorbonne” came to mean this university building in the Latin Quarter, and by extension also the entire University of Paris.

After the student uprising of 1968, the University of Paris was divided up into thirteen autonomous universities, three of which still had the word “Sorbonne” in their names. The thirteen universities soon started forming alliances, with or without the word “Sorbonne”, and now some of them have started merging with each other, so it’s all rather confusing and most people just go on using the word the old way. Several years ago I rented a “charming functional studio” (in Rue Broca) from a girl who said she was “a student at the Sorbonne” and the studio was her student pad when classes were in session.

So far, I have mentioned four of these new universities here on operasandcycling.com:

  • The University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) because they have a library in Broca Street.
  • The University of Paris VI (UPMC) because it is located in the former Jussieu Campus, now the Campus Pierre-et-Marie-Curie, which is actually a quite dreadful place despite being less than a kilometre from the Sorbonne. In 2018, the UPMC was officially merged with the Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV), to form the new Sorbonne Université.
  • The University of Paris VII (Diderot) because it escaped from the Jussieu Campus and is now located in the much nicer and more interesting Paris Rive Gauche Campus, now the Campus Grands Moulins, with a former huge flour mill as its main building. In 2019 the Diderot University merged with the Descartes University (Paris V) to form the new Université de Paris.
  • The University of Paris 8 because one of my sons has a master’s degree from there. I have never quite understood why this university is called “Paris 8” (they don’t use the Roman numeral, as a matter of principle) but also “The University of Vincennes in Saint Denis”, considering that Vincennes is a suburb at the southeast end of Paris and Saint Denis is a different suburb to the north. (My son used to go to the Saint Denis campus two or three times a week, but never to Vincennes.)

The Sorbonne

The current Sorbonne building was constructed by the architect Henri-Paul Nénot from 1885 to 1901. It includes lecture halls, a large library and various university offices.

Auguste Comte monument on Place de la Sorbonne

This monument to the philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) is on the north side of the Place de la Sorbonne, close to Boulevard Saint Michel. The young man on the right is an idealized proletarian attending classes at Comte’s Polytechnical Association for Free Instruction. The young lady on the left is Clotilde de Vaux (1815-1846), who died young and later — through no fault of her own — became Sainte Clotilde in Comte’s obscure religion. (Not to be confused with the Catholic Sainte Clotilde, who lived thirteen centuries earlier and was married to the Frankish King Clovis I.)

Bookshop on Place de la Sorbonne

On the same side of the square as the Comte monument is this philosophical bookshop, J. Vrin, which is not only a bookshop but also a publisher of books on philosophy for over a century, since 1911.

Fountains in the Place de la Sorbonne

On the other side of the Place de la Sorbonne, the south side, there are several cafés and restaurants. I especially like the one by the fountains, which is where I was sitting when I took this photo.

Location and aerial view of the Sorbonne on monumentum.fr.

My photos on this post are from 2015 and 2019. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on the Latin Quarter in Paris.

6 thoughts on “The Sorbonne”

  1. Ah yes, the Auguste Comte monument is the one students like to cap with a traffic cone. I have many pictures. VT used one of my photos of the café you were sitting in for one of their restaurant guides. It’s a wonderful area with lots of book stores. We had a hotel room once across rue Victor Cousin from the Sorbonne and we could watch the classes From our hotel window. It’s a very narrow street. Good memories. 😊

    1. On my most recent visit (2019) I had breakfast every morning in that café, because my hotel in rue Cujas was renovating its breakfast room.

  2. Enjoy your Paris university series! I used to think that there was only one Sorbonne campus, but later discovered many others within the city (I agree: it can get confusing!). Pleasure to have learned more about such a reputable university in the world!

  3. In 2014 all if not most universities in Paris got together as a comue or comunity of union to be managed by one organism even if their names remain the same. These are Sorbonne Paris Cité (SPC) as the managing group than members Paris 3, Paris 4 ; Paris 5, Paris 7, and Paris 13, also, the université Pierre et Marie Curie – UPMC , Sciences po, l’IPGP (Institut de physique du globe de Paris), l’Inalco and l’EHESP (École des hautes études en santé publique), as well as the research institutions CNRS, Inserm, IRD, Inria, and Ined. As a consquence of a pole of excellence, the huge tech area of Sarclay in Versailles is another grouping. Many friends in the Paris univ from my involvement with heritage issues. Nice article you did and yes wonderful area indeed of Paris.

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