Traditionally one of the most peaceful areas of Paris, the medicinal herb gardens which give the quarter its name were established here in 1626. It retained a rural atmosphere until the 19th century, when the city’s population expanded and the surrounding streets were built up. Near the gardens is the Arènes de Lutèce, a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre. The rue Mouffetard, winding down the hill from the bustling place de la Contrescarpe, dates from medieval times and has one of the best markets in the city. The area is also home to a sizeable Muslim community, focused on the Institut du Monde Arabe cultural centre and the Paris Mosque. In contrast to the striking Islamic architecture are the grey slab 1960s buildings of Paris University’s Jussieu Campus.

French North Africa

France has always had close connections with North Africa, though not always harmonious. Its annexation of Algeria in 1834 led to the long and bloody Algerian war of Liberation (1954–62). Relations with Tunisia, which it governed from 1883 to 1956, and Morocco, also granted independence in 1956, were better. Many North Africans now live in Paris.


  1. Jardin des Plantes

    The 17th-century royal medicinal herb garden was planted by Jean Hérouard and Guy de la Brosse, physicians to Louis XIII. Opened to the public in 1640, it flourished under the curatorship of Comte de Buffon. It contains some 10,000 species, including the first Cedar of Lebanon planted in a French tropical greenhouse, and Alpine, rose and winter gardens (see Jardine des Plantes Sights).

    • 57 rue Cuvier, 75005

    • 01 40 79 30 00

    • Open 8am–5:30pm daily, to 6pm summer

    Jardin des Plantes
  2. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

    Separate pavilions in the Jardin des Plantes house exhibits on anatomy, fossils, geology, mineralogy and insects. The Grande Galerie de l’Evolution is a magnificent collection of stuffed African mammals, a giant whale skeleton and an endangered species exhibit .

    • 57 rue Cuvier, 75005

    • Pavilions: open 10am–5pm Wed–Mon; Evolution Gallery: open 10am–6pm Wed–Mon

    • Closed 1 May

    • Admission charge


  3. Ménagerie

    The country’s oldest public zoo was founded during the Revolution to house the four surviving animals from the royal menagerie at Versailles. Other animals were donated from circuses and abroad, but during the Siege of Paris in 1870–71 the unfortunate creatures were eaten by hungry citizens. A favourite with children , the zoo has since been restocked.

    • Jardin des Plantes, 75005

    • Open 9am–5pm daily

    • Admission charge

    Riding a stone hippopotamus at the Ménagerie
  4. Institut du Monde Arabe

    This institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural relations between France and the Arab world. The stunning building (1987) designed by architect Jean Nouvel eatures a southern wall of 1,600 photo-sensitive metal screens that open and close like camera apertures to regulate light entering the building. The design is based on the latticed wooden screens of Islamic architecture. Inside are seven floors of Islamic artworks, from 9th-century ceramics to contemporary art, and a fine restaurant.

    • 1 rue des Fossés-St-Bernard, 75005

    • 01 40 51 38 11

    • Open 10am– 6pm Tue–Sun

    • Admission charge


    Institut du Monde Arabe
  5. Mosquée de Paris

    Built in 1922–6, the mosque complex is the spiritual centre for Parisian Muslims. The beautiful Hispano-Moorish decoration, particularly the grand patio, was inspired by the Alhambra in Spain. The minaret soars nearly 33 m (100 ft). There is also an Islamic school, tea room and Turkish baths, open to men and women on separate days.

    • 2 bis pl du Puits-de-l’Ermité, 75005

    • Tours: 9am– noon, 2– 6pm Sat–Thu

    • closed Islamic hols

    • Admission charge

    Minaret, Mosquée de Paris
  6. Rue Mouffetard

    Although the rue Mouffetard is famous today for its lively street market held every Tuesday to Sunday, it has an equally colourful past. In Roman times this was the main road from Paris to Rome. Some say its name comes from the French word mouffette (skunk), as a reference to the odorous River Bièvre (now covered over) where waste was dumped by tanners and weavers from the nearby Gobelins tapestry factory. Though no longer poor or Bohemian, the neighbourhood still has lots of character, with its 17th-century mansard roofs, old-fashioned painted shop signs and affordable restaurants. In the market you can buy everything from Auvergne sausage to horse meat and ripe cheeses.

  7. Arènes de Lutèce

    The remains of the 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre from the settlement of Lutetia lay buried for centuries and were only discovered in 1869 during construction of the rue Monge. The novelist Victor Hugo, concerned with the preservation of his city’s historic buildings, including Notre-Dame , led the campaign for the restoration. The original arena would have had 35 tiers and could seat 15,000 spectators for theatrical performances and gladiator fights.

    • 49 rue Monge, 75005

    • Open 9am–9pm daily (summer); 8am–5pm daily (winter)

    • Free

    Arènes de Lutèce
  8. Place de la Contrescarpe

    This bustling square has a village community feel, with busy cafés and restaurants and groups of students from the nearby university hanging out here after dark. In medieval times it lay outside the city walls, a remnant of which still stands. Notice the memorial plaque above the butcher’s at No. 1, which marks the site of the old Pine Cone Club, a café where François Rabelais and other writers gathered in the 16th century.

  9. St-Médard

    The church at the bottom of rue Mouffetard dates back to the 9th century, when it was a parish church dedicated to St Médard, counsellor to the Merovingian kings. The present church, completed in 1655, is a mixture of Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance styles. Among the fine paintings inside is the 17th-century St Joseph Walking with the Christ Child by Francisco de Zurbarán. The churchyard was the scene of hysterical fits in the 18th century, when a cult of “convulsionnaires” sought miracle cures at the grave of a Jansenist deacon.

    • 141 rue Mouffetard, 75005

    • Open 9am–noon, 2:30–7pm Tue–Sat, 9am–noon Sun

    • Free

  10. Manufacture des Gobelins

    This internationally renowned tapestry factory was originally a dyeing workshop, founded by the Gobelin brothers in the mid-15th century. In 1662, Louis XIV’s minister Colbert set up a royal factory here and gathered the greatest craftsmen of the day to make furnishings for the palace at Versailles. You can see the traditional weaving process on a guided tour.

    • 42 ave des Gobelins, 75013

    • Metro Gobelins

    • Tours: 2pm and 3pm Tue–Thu (arrive 30 minutes prior), open for temporary exhibitions only noon–6pm Tue–Sun

    • Tickets must be bought prior to the visit at a branch of FNAC

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