Paris: Five in the Fifth
I had a few hours. It was late summer; almost autumn. It was a glorious day and I was in Paris. I didn’t want to dive underground, taking the Metro to see some of the city’s iconic sights; the day was too good for that. I wanted to stroll around the neighbourhood and discover some of the lesser known places.
Loaded on to my iPad was the Insight Guide Paris which has a rather handy feature that gives you the 10 nearest sights to your location. It immediately detected that I was just off Place Monge in the Fifth Arrondissement and pinpointed 10 places closest to me. One was a hotel, another a bowling centre so I eliminated those. Of the remaining eight these are the Five in the Fifth I chose.
Mosquée de Paris
This mosque was built in the Moorish style in 1922 to commemorate the part North African troops from the french colonies played in World War 1. The mosque is open to visitors with regular tours. A large patio is reminiscent of the Alhambrra in Granada with its fountains and planting. It’s a real haven of peace from the bustle of Paris. Around the far side from the patio is a public Turkish bath and a delightful shaded cafe serving some wonderful North African sweet pastries.
Jardin des Plantes
Across the road from the mosque’s cafe is one of the entrance’s to the Jardin des Plantes. The garden was originally used to supply medicinal herbs to treat the family of Louis XIII. The garden was redesigned, added to and expanded during the 18thcentury. A maze amphitheatre a and display galleries were all added; the latter becoming the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle. After the Revolution a small zoo was added which remains today. The gardens themselves are now used to display planting schemes and extend all the way to the Seine.
This street is all that remains of the Roman road that led to Lutèce, town that later grew into the Paris we know today. Its cobbled streets are closed to traffic and as a result the food shops and cafes spill out onto the street. Market days the street is full of stalls and is a delight of sights, sounds and smells
Arènes de Lutèce
In a small park north of Place Monge I suddenly came across a Roman amphitheatre. Discovered during the construction of Rue Monge it solved the mystery as to why the sourrounding neighbourhood had always been referred to as les Arènes. The amphitheatre held upto 15,000 spectators and was used for both combat and theatrical productions.
The dome of the Panthéon is an easily recognisable landmark in the Fifth. It was modelled on St Peter’s in Rome and is consecrated to the patron saint of Paris, Ste Geneviève. Soon after its completion in 1791 the authorities made it the last resting place of leading revolutionaries. Later other prominent French citizens were interred here. Among the tombs are those of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and the Curies.
Although I chose five and intended to visit them all time ran out so the Pantheon only got a cursory glance. Exploring a neighbourhood on foot can turn up some delights that would otherwise be missed in the rush to see all main tourist sights Paris has to offer. A recent blog I read likened it to seeing Paris as a piece of chamber music rather than a grand operatic production. I totally agree with that sentiment after visiting Five in the Fifth.
I know there are other sights in the Fifth; The Sorbonne, Musée National du Moyen Âge, St Etienne du Mont and of course the booksellers along the Left Bank. What do you think? Are these the five you would choose?