"Urbi et orbi salus" (Health to the City and the World) is the device for the Paris Faculty of Medicine.
I had the opportunity to visit the “Ecole de Médecine” accompanied by a retired medical doctor and a chief librarian. I could listen to a lot of medical history and thought I should try to relate a bit of what I remember.
When universities started to appear in Europe during the 11th and 12th centuries, Medicine was one of the sciences, under control by the Church. It was however only during the latter part of the 15th century that a special school building was created in Paris, Rue de la Bûcherie, on the corner of what then was called the Rue des Rats. (Yes, rats were frequent here, the Seine river flooded…). This place was an obvious choice, as it was in the immediate neighbourhood of the hospital “Hôtel Dieu”, with 7th century origins and which occupied space in front of the Notre Dame and later also on the opposite side of the Seine branch, linked by a bridge (Pont au Double). These hospital buildings disappeared during the latter part of the 19th century and the present hospital “Hôtel Dieu” was built, again close to the Notre Dame.
The school building is still there, of course not quite in its original shape – today occupied by some Paris City administration. One can especially notice the amphitheatre from 1745.
These premises were however abandoned a few decades later… and the Medicine sciences were spread out to different places until they moved to what now is called the Rue de l’Ecole du Médecine.
I made a comparison between a 1790 city plan and “Google Earth”, which hopefully explains where the buildings are or were. …
Schools Hôtel Dieu
Schools Hôtel Dieu
… and this illustration should help to find the places referred to below.
It’s maybe necessary to say a few words about what used to be the difference between “medicine” and “surgery”. Medical Doctors were since the 13th century on dictate by the Church not allowed to intervene physically on patients, to let blood flow… This job was left to “barber-surgeons” who executed on their own or were directed by the Medical Doctors. This was also the separation during anatomy lessons. However, surgery slowly became accepted as a proper and important discipline – thanks to fortunate surgery interventions on some royalties.
On Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine you can still (at no. 5) find an amphitheatre, constructed for the surgeons, 1691-94, with special concern about the light. (Later it became an art school and today you learn English here.)
The chirurgical activities moved in 1775 to a “Ecole de Chirurgie” (Surgery School) on the opposite side of the street (no. 12), built 1669-74, in an antique Greek style. The building became a “Ecole de Médecine” in 1795 when surgery also became a medical discipline.
The original building is now the central part of a much larger complex, where additional buildings were added 1878-1905 with a long façade towards Boulevard Saint Germain.
Some photos from the inside:
First the amphitheatre, part of the central original building. Different from the previous amphitheatres, this is only a half circle. It originally had a roof hole open to rain – now covered. Light was important.
The part of the complex which was later added offers some fantastic halls and staircases. On a wall I could find the original large painting representing Doctor Charcot (see previous post about the hospital Salpêtrière).
The walls of the large directorate room are decorated by tapestries from Louis XIV’s bedroom at Versailles!!
The large library offers some 400 thousand books and works from the 14th century and later, some 500 thousand medical theses… , but the students all sit in front of a PC screen.
Since the 1950’s there are hardly any lectures given in these buildings, which, except for the library, are rather related to the administration of the Faculty René Descartes.
This is also the case with the Ecole de Médecine buildings on the opposite side of the street which houses the administration of the Faculty Pierre and Marie Curie. Until the Revolution you found here a Franciscan monastery, the “Couvent des Cordeliers”. During the revolutionary years it became the meeting place for the “Club des Cordeliers” (Danton, Marat, Desmoulins…). Later, almost all has been rebuilt, partly designed to refer to the old convent style, some green space, a lot of statues…
Of the old buildings remains only the old refectory where I could not enter as there was a “fashion week” event. I could however climb the steps of the old tower stairs.