Lycée Henri IV

Lycée Henri IV is a public school, considered as one of France’s most demanding ones, with some 2.500 pupils. Actually the school offers as well the four first years of secondary education (age 11-14), “collège”, as further secondary education (age 15-18), “lycée”, preparing for the “baccalauréat”, the entrance to higher, university, studies… but also something more particular – “classes préparatoires”, supposed to prepare students for entrance to the elite “Grandes écoles”.  It’s situated in the Latin Quarter, surrounded by other prestigious educational establishments, including the Sorbonne.

The school has a long history which actually starts well before it became a public school. It occupies buildings which once were the Abbey of St. Geneviève, first established in 506. The abbey was suppressed by the French Revolution and became in 1796 the “Ecole Centrale du Panthéon”, the first French public school. It has changed name several times, depending on who governed in France.

The school is situated just behind the Panthéon (see previous post) and is immediate neighbor to the beautiful church Saint-Etienne-du-Mont (see previous post). Between the two buildings, the former abbey chapel disappeared when rue Clovis was opened in the beginning of the 19th century.

But a lot of the former abbey remains, the most spectacular perhaps being the “Clovis Tower” with origins from the 12th century, once the church tower of the disappeared abbey chapel. (It lost its spire by thunder in 1764.)

Let’s start with a general view, seen from the outside.

When you pass the main entrance you will reach what was the cloister building. Today’s aspect dates from the 17th and 18th centuries…

…, but some walls cover 12th century architecture – very partly made visible, however the day of my visit covered by some improvised “art”. (I “stole” a photo from the school website to show what it may look like.)

A few more photos from the different interior courts.

In one of the cloister aisles you can find what used to be the convent refectory, transformed to a chapel during the 19th century, with a statue of Sainte Genevieve, a relic from the destroyed abbey chapel.

What is referred to as the “Salle des Actes”, used to be a chapel (“Chapelle de la Miséricorde”). Recent excavations have permitted to find tombs of former abbots, now covered by a wooden floor.

The “Salle de médailles” (Room of the medals), used once to be a place where natural curiosities were displayed. It’s today mostly used as a music room. The wooden panels from the 18th century are in good shape, but the ceiling obviously is in need of restoration.

To reach these rooms, you will use these beautiful stairs.  

There are some other major stairs, “l’escalier des prophètes” also named “l’escalier de la vierge” (the stairs of the virgin). The 17th century statue of the virgin still wears some traces of the original paint, but it seems that some student has added some lipstick colour. 

These stairs will lead to the abbot’s oratory

… and further up – now via some modern, added, stairs – to what used to be the abbey’s library, which some centuries ago had one of the largest European book collections, now transferred to the nearby Bibliothéque Sainte-Geneviéve (see previous post). With a central cupola and four aisles forming a cross, after having for some time served as dormitory, it’s today again used as library and working space for the students. The floor has been restored according to original design; the 18th century wooden walls are in good shape…, but the cupola and what surrounds it seem to be in a very sad shape (see also top picture).

Through one of the windows you can see the top of the “ClovisTower”.

The library was during the abbey times open to public, but by using a separate entrance. These were the stairs then to be used…

… leading to this wooden door.

The inside of the door has still some “fleur-de-lis”, associated with the French monarchy. The question is still open how they escaped from the revolutionary inspections.  

One detail which draw my attention was this clock mechanism, with the inscriptions “…donated by the Duc d’Orléans in 1743” and especially the phrase, made in Paris by “son très humble et très obéisant serviteur Gallonde”. (Louis Charles Gallonde obviously made a lot of clocks and astronomical instruments during the 18th century.)

A lot of nice things to be seen, but a lot of restoration work would be appreciated. 


Olivier said...

magnifique endroit et comme d'habitude un superbe article de ta part

French Girl in Seattle said...

Great post, Peter, thank you. I have never set a foot inside the school. Today was the first day I got to see it, thanks to you. Honestly, I know it is supposed to be a challenging school, but how can students even FOCUS there? I would constantly be gawking at the architecture, ceilings, etc. Ah, tres parisien, certainement. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Starman said...

Restoration is very expensive these days so the school may have to wait awhile. Did anyone else think the bottom right picture of a 'window in the sixth set of pictures, appears to be a person upon first glance?'

Thérèse said...

Henri IV et Louis le Grand...
Encore une fois, des détails super intéressants. Et j'aime beaucoup le détail de la porte avec les fleurs de lys!

hpy said...

So you're back to school.

Cezar and Léia said...

Wonderful article Peter, “l’escalier de la vierge” is very impressive!I also love the lights in your first shot.

Synne said...

My goodness, that's overwhelming! The stairs - all of them! - and the clockwork are my immediate favourites. I recognise the outside of the building, and I think I even entered one of the outer, publicly accessible rooms with my French teatcher on a study trip. I had no idea what was hidden further ahead, though! Beautiful!

Studio at the Farm said...

Great post, Peter. Your guided photographic tour of the lycee was wonderful. Thank you.

Alison said...

For my year as an Assistante, I was originally assigned to this school...then quickly re-assigned to a couple of collèges in the 8th and 19th. So I never did get to see the inside--until now!

I can't imagine any American school system having the budget to restore and maintain such valuable artifacts; I assume the French budget must be in similar straits. Perhaps among the illustrious almumni of the school, the funds could be found.

week end à 2 said...

great website I just discovered!!! Nice pics and very interesting post!
Anthony -weekenda2.fr

Anonymous said...

¡Un artículo fantastico!

Las fotos son espectaculares...

Mil gracias.

arabesque said...

Hi peter!
curious me, you didn't sneak inside did you? ^0^

the interiors inside are just as lovely as its exteriors.
i love its intricate details, but yes, in dire need of renovation, but still, i;m not in a position to complain when i've seen worst interiors than this.
thanks for touring us around.

Jeanie said...

What treasures you share. Yes, I can see some of the restoration needs. The one thing (of many) I love about France is that they restore, not remove. I hope this lovely spot gets the love it needs!

Cynthia said...

C'est superbe Peter! Tu as le don de nous ouvrir des portes que je croyais fermées !

Franck Dernoncourt said...

I attended Lycée Henri IV a few years ago and I am still baffled by your pictures!
Unfortunately, some teachers aren't great as the buildings. Still one of the best high schools in France though.

Anonymous said...

Peter, the clock looks amazing. Have you heard about the group that secretly broke into the Pantheon and repaired their clock. It is called UX. Here is a link:


-- Susan from Paris