21.6.12

Sorbonne





To reach the official main entrance to “La Sorbonne” you just have to cross the street from the little square described in my latest post

I had the opportunity to visit some of the more official parts of “La Sorbonne”. First, however a bit of European teaching and learning history.

The word university comes from the Latin “unversitas magistorum et scholarum” meaning “community of teachers and scholars”. Bologna, in what then were the Papal States, is considered to be the first university, founded in 1088. It was followed about simultaneously by the University of Paris and the University of Oxford probably around 1150, a bit later by Cambridge, Salamanca…

The origin of these medieval universities was the cathedral or monastic schools which existed since the 6th century.  In Paris you could find the Palace School, the School of Notre Dame and that of the Sainte-Genevieve Abbey (see previous post about what today is the “Lycée Henri IV”) and later the School of Saint-Victor.

What was referred to as the University of Paris was actually a number of “colleges” -, where pupils and teachers lived together. Most of these “colleges” could be found on the slope between the Sainte-Genevieve Abbey and the Seine River, the Latin Quarter, of course named so because Latin then was the common, official, language used by all the “nations” who taught and were taught “art” here. Later came the faculties of theology, law and medicine.

One of the “colleges” was the “College de Sorbonne”, founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon. It became a leading Faculty of Theology, was renovated by Cardinal Richelieu during the 17th century, was suppressed (together with the other” colleges”) during the French Revolution, restored in 1808 and finally closed in 1882. Around where the original College de Sorbonne had stood a complete new secular Paris University complex was built which stood ready in 1889, the year of a Universal Exhibition (and the Eiffel Tower). It became known as “La Sorbonne”.


Now, the University of Paris has been reorganised into thirteen autonomous universities and schools, some of which still carry the Sorbonne name, all today spread out all over the city. However, the buildings that we may refer to as “La Sorbonne” have, in addition to normal student activities, some of the central functions, rectorship offices and official receptions rooms, library, amphitheatres…

The architect of the present complex was Henri-Paul Nénot (1853-1934), only 29 years old when he got the job! The official entrance (there are lot of others) is imposing with the double stairs leading to the peristyle...



… and to the Grand Amphitheatre, which can seat some 3000 people. It’s decorated by a great fresco by Puvis de Chavanne (the statue of whom we could find in the square in the previous post). The “secular virgin” in the middle is supposed to represent the school, “La Sorbonne”. There are statues of some remarkable people, including Robert de Sorbon. Apart from for university lectures and different meetings, the amphitheatre is used as an excellent concert hall. This is also where Pierre de Coubertin in 1892 launched the idea of the Olympic Games, where the first session of the General Conference of UNESCO (see previous post) was held in 1946.












The fabulous peristyle (see also top picture) offers a number of wall paintings representing Paul de Sorbon receiving the chart by Saint Louis (Louis IX) to create the college, Pascal discussing with Descartes, Richelieu laying the first stone of the new college chapel… and the statue of what obviously should represent “La Sorbonne”.


Looking up from the entrance floor or from the peristyle you can see the stained glass window representing the Arms of Paris. One may be surprised to see that Paris is represented by a small sailing ship. Originally this was the arms of the Guild of Watermen which later was taken over by the City with the motto “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink). The “fleurs de lys”, mostly conncected to the Royalty disappeared during Revolutions, Napoleon… but are back since the end of the 19th century.


From the peristyle, you may reach other rooms like this one, used for different official ceremonies…

… and this room, which is the entrance to the Grand Amphitheatre for the “officials”.

Descending to the “Cour d’Honneur” you discover the college chapel, which is oldest remaining building, from 1642. (Top left here below you can see it from the street.)  

Turning in the opposite direction you find this sun dial, with its decorations. “Sicut ombra dies nostri” (Our days pass like a shadow) can be seen as inscription on many sun dials.

On the floor of the Cour d’Honneur the design of the original college chapel has been designed. There are of course also some statues (Victor Hugo…).

The chapel has been used for religious services during different periods even since the University became secular and even after the separation of State and Church (1905), but not during the last decades. Today the interior is in bad state and in heavy need of restoration. 

Cardinal Richelieu, who was the headmaster of La Sorbonne from 1622 to his death in 1642 and decided on  its rebuild, including the Chapel, has his tomb here. His body disappeared during the Revolution, but his head was saved (stolen), retraced … and back in the tomb. Above the tomb you can find his “galero”, the wide-brimmed cardinal hat.


Several rooms are under restoration, including the fabulous library, so could not be visited, at least this time.


There is again a little extra post below.

21 comments:

Olivier said...

superbe, c'est surement la plus belle ecole (universite) du monde. Un vrai musée

Starman said...

I am sometimes astonished at the amount of work that surely must go into one of your posts. Bravo, mon ami!

Studio at the Farm said...

What a superb post, Peter! As always, fascinating bits of history and beautiful photos!!! Thank you so much. :)

Mystica said...

As usual thank you for a beautiful post.

iamabrahamlincoln said...

Would Paris be as famous without the art and fascinating places you like to show in your posts?

What is it that makes Paris, Paris?

iamabrahamlincoln said...

Would Paris be as famous without the art and fascinating places you like to show in your posts?

What is it that makes Paris, Paris?

Cezar and Léia said...

Awesome architecture and your pictures are excellent!
This University is very traditional and I love reading your article, thanks for sharing!
Léia

Jeanie said...

You certainly discovered more at the Sorbonne than Rick and I did with our walk-by! How I'd love to see something in that amphitheatre!

Scheherazade said...

Beautiful. I remember taking a few classes here as a summer student years and years ago. Thanks for refreshing my memory. I remember the amphitheatre. For some reason, what I remember most is the student who tried to steal my lunch one day. Ah well, I should have let him have it. It was pretty awful. The only bad meal I ever had in France.

Synne said...

The French students are certainly offered inspiring surroundings! Beautiful!

Virginia said...

I"ve always wanted to go inside and have a look. I fear this is as close as I will be able to come. Thank you for all the wonderful photos and research as always Peter. You're the best!
V

Delphinium said...

Et c'était quoi le titre de la conférence que tu as donnée dans le grand amphithéâtre? :-))

claude said...

C'est beau la dedans ! Dehors aussi d'ailleurs, !
Je n'ai pas eu l'honneur d'y faire mes études.
Pour les peupliers on aimerait bien que le voisin ne laisse qu'un tronc par arbre. Notre autre voisin serait pret à le faire s'il le voulait bien.
Pour les chaussettes de mon Chéri, j'ai horreur de repriser les chaussettes alors je fais comme toi, quand elles sont percées, je les mets au chiffons pour les pinceaux et peinture et j'en achète d'autres.

Ruth said...

A golden post about an esteemed university. Such beauty and history represented in this place!

arabesque said...

beautiful inside out!
we also had fotos of the chapel's exterior,but i didn;t notice then how nice the details were and that we should've visit the other side. ^0^ oh well...
this post is clearly informative.
tnx again Peter.

Paris Paul said...

Thanks for the lesson and the photos! They're all the more interesting as my son applied to the Sorbonne as his 1st choice and has been accepted! So he'll be starting their in the fall. It's nice to know a little about where he'll be!

Owen said...

Hi Peter, Again you have put your research skills to good use here, giving us a fine view of this ancient establishment of learning.

And it brings back many memories for me from when I studied for a diploma course in French Language and Civilisation for foreign students here in 1986. I don't think I've been back inside since then, but have many fond memories of sitting in the lecture hall taking notes as fast as I could on art history and literature, etc. The professors were excellent and the setting was wonderful. And now just a distant memory, though events of that period eventually led to me returning permanently to live in France.

Hope to see you before too long, work was crazy for a while, and then we were travelling... best wishes...

M said...

I haven't been there yet but your post has certainly put the Sorbonne on my list! Hope it won't be too long before I can return to Paris! Bises, m

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Well, I have only seen the Sorbonne from the outside. The sundial is fascinating and I know that there is an out of print book on the sundials of Paris which I would love to find. This one is a beauty! Great photos and extraordinary research, mon ami, as usual.

Bises,
Genie

Thérèse said...

A force d'en parler ou bien d'en entendre parler dans les conversations, journaux etc. on en oublie les détails ici retracés. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

I was there with my favorite Parisian

nephew, overwhelmed by all that

grandeur...

Fantastic photos!

Fantastic post!

Maria