Our tour of the arrondissements continues with the oldest arrondissement in Paris. That’s right. It’s finally time to head across the river to talk about the 5e arrondissement. This district was originally built by the Romans, and therefore it has buildings and sites that date back to the first century. It’s also home to Paris’ famed universities, several national monuments, and the historic Latin Quarter. There’s lots of reasons why the 5e arrondissement is beloved by locals and visitors alike, so let’s dive in!
The 5e arrondissement is named after the monumental building that sits perched atop the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. The Panthéon was originally intended to be a church, and construction began under the orders of King Louis XV in 1758. It was finally completed in 1790, about six months after the outbreak of the French Revolution and the beginning of the dechristianization of France. As a result, in 1791, the National Constituent Assembly voted to transform the building into a mausoleum for France’s most revered citizens. Today, it is the final resting place of luminaries such as Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Voltaire, Simone Veil, and Josephine Baker. The crypt is open to the public, and you can also climb to the top of the dome for a truly spectacular view of the city.
The Historic Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter is one of the oldest and most famous neighbourhoods in Paris. It is filled with narrow, cobblestoned streets, picturesque (and delicious!) restaurants, and enough bookstores to fill my heart with joy every day of the year. The name Latin Quarter comes from the fact that this district houses many of Paris’ most famous universities, some of which date back to the 12th century. At that time, education was conducted entirely in Latin, meaning it was commonly spoken among inhabitants of this neighbourhood. Today, the 5e arrondissement is still home to the Sorbonne University, the Collège de France, and the Université Paris Cité, along with dozens of other colleges and high schools. When school is in session, the 5e arrondissement is packed with students, giving it a uniquely vibrant atmosphere.
The Roman Ruins of the 5e Arrondissement
Paris was under Roman rule for over five centuries, and during that time it was called Lutèce, not Paris. Unfortunately, very little of the Romans remain in Paris today, as most Roman buildings were destroyed during the Viking invasions of the 9th century. However, there are a couple of traces left, and they are mostly located in the 5e. The most prominent, and my personal favourite, is the Thermes de Cluny. These Roman baths are remarkably well preserved, and they offer a glimpse into Parisian life over two thousand years ago. They are also located in the Musée de Cluny, which is one of my favourite smaller museums in the city.
Saint-Étienne-du-Mont – A beautiful church tucked behind the Panthéon that is home to the last remaining rood screen in Paris.
Arènes de Lutèce – A Roman amphitheatre that dates back to the first century and was used to stage gladiatorial combats for centuries. Most Parisians don’t know about this hidden gem!
Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air – An outdoor sculpture museum located along the banks of the River Seine that is free to experience. You might even stumble upon one of the many public dance sessions that take place in the evenings in and amongst the artworks.
Rue Mouffetard – One of the oldest streets in Paris, and certainly one of its liveliest. This narrow road is packed with speciality shops of all kinds, and it ends with an open air market that is open year round. A true foodie’s paradise!
La Grande Mosquée – The biggest mosque in Paris and certainly one of the most beautiful. It also has an amazing tea garden to visit at the end of your visit.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.