La Sorbonne

Discover the history of the Sorbonne in the Quartier Latin, the prestigious, world-renowned educational institution dating back to the 13th century.

The origins of the Sorbonne

La Sorbonne was named for its founder, Robert de Sorbon, chaplain and confessor of Louis IX. The history of the institution has always been closely linked with that of the University of Paris, one of the most important medieval universities of the French capital. Throughout the centuries, la Sorbonne became and remained a prestigious symbol of the university, training and teaching many of the great philosophers and masters of theology and history.

The University of Paris opened its doors in the 13th century. It was formed from a conglomeration of all of the colleges of the city's left bank. It was here that training occurred for all of Paris' clergy, administrators of royal institutions (courts of audit, courts, parliament, the council of state), as well as agents of ecclesiastical institutions ((bishops, abbots, education and hospital agents). Young students of the Four Nations at the time (French, Normandy, Picardy and English) came there to study law, medicine, theology and the arts. Thus, the University enjoyed unmatched prestige and international renown.

In 1253, Robert de Sorbon opened his school on the Parisian Mountain, Sainte-Geneviève. The institution was primarily meant to train the poorest students (like many other colleges on the hill), but soon the Collège de Sorbon acquired a reputation, gradually becoming the famous theological faculty La Sorbonne .
The 17th century brought change. In an effort to bring new life to the old buildings, Cardinal Duc de Richelieu appointed architect Jacques Lemercier to undertake updates to the Sorbonne's structures. Cardinal Richelieu was very involved in the life of the Sorbonne and would go on to become headmaster in 1622.
The turmoil of the French Revolution would force the doors of the Sorbonne to close for a time. Starting in 1801 the Sorbonne housed simple artist workshops. During the Restoration, Louis XVIII decided to restore the buildings of the Sorbonne to their original purpose: education. In 1821, the Paris Academy and the École des Chartes (which trained students in archival conservation and preserving written heritage) took possession of the Sorbonne.

The Temple of Knowledge

The building you can admire today dates back to 1901 and was built at the request of Jules Ferry, former Minister of Education. The building's architect, Henri-Paul Nénot, wanted to give the university a complex and eclectic façade. Although the building combines the architectural styles of the neo-renaissance with antique and classical styles, the overall look of the building is harmonious and well regarded. The Sorbonne is also decorated with different plaques on which are engraved the names of all the academies of France and the coats of arms of the cities that the original colleges called home.

La Sorbonne today

The Sorbonne has enjoyed an excellent international reputation since its construction in the 13th century and is still considered to be in the upper echelons of learning institutions dedicated to culture, science and art. In spite of its democratic beginnings, the Sorbonne's reputation is now that of a prestigious and somewhat elitist school. The Sorbonne is synonymous with excellence, and eight centuries after its founding, the university has held its place within international academia, as an example of the rigour of French education and the sharp intellect of French minds.

The University now hosts the headquarters of the Academy Rector and Chancellor of the Universities of Paris, as well as research laboratories and higher education institutions with international standing. What was once the headquarters of the French protest movement of May 1968, is currently composed of four autonomous universities: Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris III Sorbonne-Nouvelle, as well as Paris IV Paris-Sorbonne and Paris V René Descartes.

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