The Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church
The Saint-Germain-des-Prés church, dating back to the 6th century, is the oldest church in Paris. The church also features the oldest Romanesque tower in France. In the Middle Ages it was so culturally and religiously powerful that it created a small town out of itself in the middle of Paris; these were the beginnings of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. Over the centuries, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The church’s current state is thanks to a large restoration project completed in the 19th century. Many interesting historical and religious figures have tombs there, including the philosopher René Descartes. The church is also known for the beautiful classical music concerts held there today.
57 Rue de Seine Building
Number 57 rue de Seine is an architecturally pleasing building standing proudly in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. French poet Charles Baudelaire once called this address home. Baudelaire is most famous for his book of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal. He is also credited with creating the term ‘modernity’. According to Baudelaire, modernity is the fleeting experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility that art and artists have to capture this experience. Baudelaire lived in Paris most of his life, and through his works it is evident that he himself felt this responsibility. 57 rue de Seine was also once a club called Whisky a Go Go. This club was a favorite of Jim Morrison, the famous lead singer of The Doors. Morrison is now buried in Paris’ famous cemetery, Père Lachaise.
184 Boulevard Saint Germain
Located at 184 Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Société de Géographie is the world’s oldest geographical society. The society was founded in 1822 and has been headquartered here since 1878. The entrance is marked by two large sculpted female figures representing land and sea. In 1879, the decision to construct the Panama Canal was made by the society on Boulevard Saint-Germain. The society produces a review three times a year, offering news of all important geographical discoveries. The library located here houses an extensive and impressive collection of maps and photographs, containing one of the most comprehensive selections in the world. Today, 184 Boulevard Saint-Germain also houses the school IPAG, a prestigious business school, as well as the Société.
Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore
Saint-Germain-des-Prés is synonymous with names like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus, and and Jean-Paul Sartre. It was once the home to Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Pablo Picasso. It’s not surprising that to most, Saint-Germain-des-Prés was once the literary and artistic center of Paris. The cafés Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore stand essentially side by side on the Boulevard Saint Germain. There is, of course, a small rivalry between the two cafés, because they have played host to the same types of people through the years. The two cafés have been the popular haunts of artists, writers, intellectuals, and philosophers. There is even a Deux Magots literary prize awarded to a French novel every year; the Café de Flore’s answer to this is the Prix de Flore. Today, these cafés are very popular tourists destinations because of their famous clientele, and for the prime people watching that can be done from their terraces.
Les Deux Magots, 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, Paris, France +33 1 45 48 55 25
Café de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, France +33 1 45 48 55 26
Le Petit Zinc
Situated on the corner of rue Saint-Benoit and rue Guillaume Apollinaire is the brasserie Le Petit Zinc. Before it became the Art Nouveau-style restaurant that it is today, Le Petit Zinc was once a theater, and also a bistro owned by Jean Bouquin, costume designer to famous French actress Brigitte Bardot. It was Bouquin who decorated the exterior of the restaurant in the style of Hector Guimard. Guimard is the architect most known for his entrances to certain Parisian metro stations. Customers who are attracted to the elegant and intricate ironwork on the outside of the building will be pleased to see that this beautiful decor carries through to the inside dining area. The restaurant itself has very mixed reviews but its charm and sophisticated decor make it a very popular destination among locals and tourists alike.
Le Petit Zinc, 11 Rue Saint-Benoît, Paris, France +33 1 42 86 61 00
École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts
Famous artists such as Delacroix, Fragonard, Degas, Monet, and Renoir may be very different from one another, but they share one common factor: these world-renowned artists studied at and graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. This famous traditional fine arts school is located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area on rue Bonaparte. The École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts was celebrated as one of the most prestigious art academies in the world at the turn of the century. The school has a very strict and traditional method of teaching, but was founded on a social theory which invited art students on merit and skills alone, rather than on their social standing. This theory was groundbreaking at the time, and it enabled artists that were not of superior social standing and class to perfect their skills by studying at this academy. Today, the École remains one of the most influential art academies in the country.
5 bis Rue de Verneuil
Nestled between large townhouses and luxury antique shops sits a small building at 5 bis rue de Verneuil covered in graffiti. At first glance, a passerby might think that it is an eyesore in comparison with the rest of the pristine buildings in Saint-Germain. Upon further investigation, it becomes clear that most of the graffiti is a tribute to the apartment’s former resident, famous French singer, songwriter, poet, painter, screenwriter, actor, and director Serge Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg is perhaps equally as famous for his relationships with women such as Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot. The apartment remains in Gainsbourg’s family, and his daughter, the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, is the owner today. Charlotte hopes to one day reopen the apartment as a museum for fans of her father to come and pay tribute to the French national treasure. Until that day, fans of Gainsbourg’s are free to wander down rue de Verneuil and see where the superstar once called home.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés boasts some of the most historic buildings in Paris. Founded in 1686, Le Procope restaurant is the oldest restaurant in the city. It is known as one of the first literary cafés in the capital, and the list of its regulars reads like a list of the greatest names in French literature and philosophy. La Fontaine, Voltaire, Rousseau, Balzac, and Victor Hugo are just a few of the masters that have frequented this establishment. The creation of the Encyclopedia is also linked to this cafe, as Benjamin Franklin was also seen there. The restaurant was refurbished in the late 1980s in an 18th-century-style decor and remains this way today.
Le Procope, 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, Paris, France +33 1 40 46 79 00