- You’ll revisit the spots where the French Revolution was born.
- Your welcomer will show you what many people consider the most romantic square in Paris.
- You’ll learn how authors like Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir made this the literary heart of Paris.
- Your welcomer will explain what a Germanopratin is!
Saint Germain des Pres Walking Tour
What does Saint-Germain-des- Prés evoke for you? For the French people, it’s the place where Paris irresistibly returned to life after WWII, where the Existentialism think tank took place, where night fell even in daytime inside jazzy cellars. It’s also the place of a certain Parisian chic, made of both arrogance and casualness.
Your welcomer will point out that the bubbling nature of Saint-Germain-des-Prés does not only date back to the mid-20th century. During the Middle Ages, a village grew around a powerful abbey, an annual fair drew traders from Champagne, Flanders or Lombardy. At the end of the 18th century, Enlightenment ideas emerged from the pre-Revolution café society. The district became the literary heart of Paris. During the 20th century, no important publishing label would have accepted to settle anywhere other than in the Saint-Germain Church’s fold.
Strangely, in a district that gave birth to the Comédie-Française, only one important theatre currently performs. A clue maybe of the true nature of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where comedians and writers… and yourself, neighbor in streets and shops. Actually, the whole district is kind of a stage.
The local church of Saint Germain des Pres, notoriously the oldest sanctuary in Paris, was the start of everything. A good reason for meeting your welcomer here. Around the sanctuary, a powerful abbey developed, almost possessing the Left Bank of Paris. The abbey disappeared during the French Revolution, but charming side streets currently remind one of its existence. Your welcomer will take you to a former stable courtyard that became one of the most romantic squares in Paris.
Another church is neighboring, the parrochial church of the district: Saint-Sulpice. A building dating back to the 18th century, it’s still famous for its organ as well as the Delacroix’s frescoe in the first left chapel.
Within a stone’s throw from the venerable churches, famous cafés and restaurants line up along the modern crossroad. There lunched many glories of political or literary Paris: such as writers Camus and Saint-Exupery at Brasserie Lipp, Sartre and Beauvoir at Café de Flore or William Faulkner at Deux Magots. Saint-Germain-des-Prés was also a hangout of jazzy Paris. Here met Mile Davis, Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, at a time being a black person was easier on that side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Earlier in History, Saint-Germain-des-Prés’ old hands already influenced the course of events. The Encyclopaedists, a group of authors touched by the Enlightenment grace, compiled in a single dictionary the whole knowledge of Humanity. They were replaced at Café Procope’s tables by young bourgeois professing revolutionary political and social ideas. Many of them lived nearby and your welcomer will show you what’s left from Danton and Desmoulins’ house.
Other clues of the deep intellectual nature of Saint-Germain-des-Prés could be listed: the French Academy is close by and the French-Comedy was. When French people put “française” with any other word, you can be sure the concerned institution is of some importance.
Saint Germain’s literary tradition reached its acme during the 20th century. Famous names among French publishing companies gathered there: Gallimard, Grasset, Hachette, along with key bookshops called Le Divan or La Hune. Flat rentals increased, this these labels had to leave Paris downtown to peripheric and cheaper arrondissements. Reputed French luxury brands moved in instead, to the delight of tourists.
Art galleries maintained their activity and the “Germanopratin” identity. More than a hundred art dealers spread from the Church square down to the river, shaping the internationally acknowledged “Carré Rive Gauche”. They keep the local tradition and spirit alive. As meadows disappeared a long time ago, Saint-Germain-des-Prés (i.e. “in the Fields”) might be once retitled Saint-Germain-of the-Arts.
Meeting Address: 1 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris - In front of Saint-Germain-des-Prés church, Metro line 4, Saint-Germain-des-Prés station
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