Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

The Sorbonne

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Pre-revolution * Revolution of 1789 * Post-revolution


The center of Bohemianism was the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter), an area on the Left Bank of the Seine. The neighborhood got its name from the university located there: the Sorbonne, today a part of the University of Paris. From its founding in 1253 until the 1500s, students at the Sorbonne did all of their work in Latin.
The Sorbonne was orginally a university that taught theology almost exclusively; it was famous throughout Europe for this subject. The Cardinal Richelieu, aide to King Louis XIII, was a principal of the school and presided over the construction of its chapel, its most famous building, in 1635. Richelieu is buried in the chapel, one of the first Classical buildings in Paris.


 The church and the universityof the Sorbonne, after an engraving of the 17th Century

Revolution During the French Revolution, the school of theology was closed (due to the anti-church sentiments of the times) and the Sorbonne buildings were emptied. However, in 1801 when the Louvre Palace was turned into a museum, the official state artists who had been living there moved into the chapel of the Sorbonne instead! They remained there until 1821.



In 1808, Napoleon founded the Imperial University, which included for the first time schools of literature and science. He had intended to create a new site for the university, but this was not accomplished during his reign. In 1821 the "ultras" moved the university back into the Sorbonne buildings. Famous scholars arrived to teach there, including Ampere, Saint-Hilaire, Pasteur, Lamarck, Guizot, Villemain, and Michelet.
The medieval buildings eventually gave way to more modern structures. Though these plans were made in the 1840s and 50s, construction of the new buildings (including a huge auditorium and laboratories) was not complete until 1883.

 A nineteenth-century view of the area around the Sorbonne