La Rive Gauche

Paris’ Left Bank was its centre from its first to 11th centuries, but little evidence remains of this today. The largest reason for this is that, solidly built from Roman times, its crumbling constructions in fact served as a quarry for Rive Droite constructions when its population moved to Paris’ northern shores. Calm even today, the rive Gauche is in its majority residential.

Locations

Saint-Germain-des-Prés / Faubourg Saint-Germain
This central Rive-Gauche quarter is named for its 7th century abbey of which only a church is still standing. Its commercial growth began upon the 1886 completion of its Boulevard Saint-Germain and the opening of its cafés and bistrots namely its “Café de Flore” and “Deux Magots” terraces. Its fame came with the 1950s post-WW II student “culture emancipation” movement that had its source in the nearby University. Many jazz clubs appeared here during those times, and a few still remain today.

Located near the École des Beaux-Arts, this quarter is known for its artistry in general, and has many galleries along its rue Bonaparte and rue de Seine. In all, Saint-Germain-des-Prés is an upper-class bourgeois residential district, and its quality clothing and gastronomical street-side commerce is a direct reflection of this.

Odéon / Saint-Michel

Odéon is named for the 18th-century theatre standing between the boulevard Saint-Germain and the Luxembourg gardens, but today it is best known for its cinemas and cafés.

The land just to the south of the Seine river to the east of the Boulevard Saint-Michel, around its Sorbonne university, has been a centre of student activity since the early 12th century. The surrounding neighbourhood is filled with many student-oriented commercial establishments such as bookstores, stationery stores and game shops.

The land to the north of the boulevard Saint-Germain, to the east of the Boulevard Saint-Michel, is one of the Rive Gauche’s few tourist oases. Although its narrow streets are charming, as they have remained unchanged from medieval times, they are filled with souvenir shops and tourist-trap restaurants, and it is a quarter where few Parisians ever stray.

Invalides / École Militaire / Eiffel Tower / Quai d’Orsay
La Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) seen from l’Esplanade du Trocadéro.

Paris’ 17th-century Hôtel des Invalides and 18th-century École Militaire were built where they were in an effort to force the Rive Gauche’s growth westward, to match that to its opposing Rive Droite. Les Invalides, a former military hospital and still today a retirement home for a few former soldiers.

Just to the west from there lies the École Militaire (Military school) built from 1751, but it is to the river end of its former parade ground that lies Paris’ foremost tourist attraction. The Eiffel Tower, built by Gustave Alexandre Eiffel for the 1889 Universal Exposition.

Further east along the bank of the Seine lies the former Paris-à-Orléans train station built for the 1900 Universal Exposition. Closed in 1939.

Montparnasse / Denfert-Rochereau
This quarter owes its artistic reputation to its Montparnasse cemetery. Open from 1824, it attracted the ateliers of sculptors and engravers to the still-inbuilt land nearby, and these in turn drew painters and other artists looking for calmer climes than the saturated and expensive Right Bank. Many of these today-famous artists met in the boulevard Montparnasse’s many cafés and bistros, one of these being the world-known Belle Époque “La Coupole”. This aspect of Montparnasse’s culture has faded since the second world war, but many of its artist atelier-residence “Cités” are still there to see.

The Gare Montparnasse, since its beginning as a railway connection to Versailles in 1840, has since grown into the Rive Gauche’s commuter hub connection to many destinations in southern France. The neighbourhood around it is a thriving business quarter, and houses Paris’ tallest building: the Tour Montparnasse.
The Catacombs of Paris

To the south-east of the boulevard Montparnasse, to the bottom of the northward-running Avenue Denfert-Rochereau at the square of the same name, is one of Paris’ few-remaining pre-1860’s “prolype” gateways. The westernmost of these twin buildings holds Paris’ most macabre attraction: the Catacombs of Paris. Formerly stone mines, abandoned when Paris annexed the land over them from 1860, the underground hallways became a new sepulture for the contents of Paris’ many overflowing and unhygienic parish cemeteries. At its origin but a jumbled bone depository, it was renovated in the early 19th century into uniform rooms and hallways of neatly (and even artistically) arranged skulls and tibias, and opened to the public for paid visits from 1868.

La Rive Gauche

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