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Origins of Paris

Origins of Paris Walking Tour

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Why you will love it?

Have you ever wondered what Paris could have looked like in the past some 2000 years ago? This walking tour will guide you through some of the oldest places in Paris, from a gladiator arena of the Roman era to the symbolic 18th century Pantheon. Enjoy! Parisianist

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About this place

1 Rue Buffon, 75005 Paris
Line 5 / 10 - Gare d'Austerlitz

Thursday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm
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Monday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm Tuesday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm Wednesday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm Thursday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm Friday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm Saturday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm Sunday : 9:00 am - 17:00 pm

Our Insiders' Article

Jardin des Plantes

When exiting the Metro station Gare d’Austerlitz (exit 4 “Rue Buffon”), enter the park called Jardin des Plantes via the main entrance, located on the square close to the seine, and offering a beautiful perspective on the garden. Built in 1635 as royal gardens, it now belongs to the Museum of Natural History. This museum is comprised of many different buildings. On the left is the Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy Galery (skeletons of modern and prehistoric animals), in front is the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (taxidermied animals) and on the right are the Grandes Serres (greenhouses) and the second oldest zoo in the world, la Ménagerie, built in 1793.

Parisianist Fun Fact: During the French civil war in 1870, the animals of the zoo were eaten by the Parisians under siege.


Walk all the way to the other end of Jardin des Plantes. The main building is the Evolution Gallery, a perfect place for children to discover the animal kingdom, its main entrance being on the left (7€ / 10AM to 6PM / closed on Tuesday). To the right of this are the Grandes Serres: greenhouses with many different kinds of plants, including tropical plants (6€ / 10AM to 5PM / closed on Tuesday). Stick to your left to exit the park. Don’t miss the lone tall fenced tree just before exiting. It’s a Japanese Sophora planted in 1747.

Parisianist Fun Fact: Don’t get fooled by the tree’s name, as it originally comes from China (not Japan) and was brought in France in the 18th century by explorers. There is a Lebanese Cedar hidden in the Jardin des Plantes that was planted in 1734. Try to find it! (hint: it's located next to Buffon's summer-house, the oldest metal construction in France)


At the exit of the park and the Evolution Gallery, on your right, is the Grand Mosque of Paris. Built in 1926 after WWI, this beautiful mosque is an important place for the Muslim community in Paris and open to the public (3€ / open daily except during lunchtime or prayer times). The official entrance lies on the opposite side of the park’s exit (rue Georges Desplas), but if you prefer sitting on a terrace with mint tea and sweet oriental delights, you can enter the mosque via the entrance in front of the Evolution Gallery.

Parisianist Tip: and why not try one of the numerous shisha (waterpipe) flavours while drinking your tea?

Saint Médard

Follow the Rue Daubenton to the southeast until this road becomes a narrow street, almost exclusively for pedestrians. On the left is the entrance to the Saint Médard Church. Don’t miss it as it looks more like an alley! This church, built between the 15th and the 17th centuries, was closely connected to Jansenism, a Christian theological movement that suffered fierce repression in the 18th century. The interesting interiors make it a place worth entering.

Parisianist Fun Fact: mentally ill people would come here to pray for miracles on the grave of deacon François de Pâris, a Jansenist buried here. King Louis XV eventually ordered this to stop: a roguish stranger thus wrote “By decision of the King, it is forbidden for God to accomplish miracles here”. The walled doors are still visible at the intersection of Rue Daubenton and Rue Candolle.

Rue Mouffetard

Exit the church through the main exit, and you will find yourself on the Rue Mouffetard, one of the most animated and popular streets in Paris. It is also one of the oldest streets in Paris, believed to trace back to the 1st century Romans. Turn right and walk uphill. This lively street is now full of small shops and restaurants. From baguette sandwiches to Japanese sushi by way of oriental kebabs, everything can be found here. In the morning, you might even see the street market.

Parisianist Fun Fact: The name Mouffetard probably comes from the ancient word Mofette meaning pungent stench. In the 13th century, waste and mud covered this street, creating an exhalation of foul stenches.


After a 10 to 15 minute walk up the Saint Geneviève hill, you will reach the Place de la Contrescarpe, a local favorite. Several bars are on this square and in the summer the terraces are full of Parisians. We recommend the Requin Chagrin, a lively bar in the evening. The café Delmas, on the other hand, is very expensive and not very friendly.

Parisianist Fun Fact:  Go to 55 Rue Lacépède (almost on the Place de la Contrescarpe). Notice how small the entrance door to the building is? Now look up and check out the window…


Take the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine and stop at number 74. Author Ernest Hemingway, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Old Man and the Sea, lived on the 3rd floor here, from January 1922 to August 1923. Hemingway always mentioned how he loved Paris and this district in particular. Now take rue Rollin, opposite the building. This quiet street was once the street in which scientist and philosopher René Descartes once lived in the middle of the 17th century. He is famed for his quote I think, therefore I am,” but was banned from France and fled to Holland.

Parisianist Fun Fact: Hemingway was diagnosed with iron overload after his death. This hereditary sickness, though not lethal, could explain the many suicides in his family (father, brother, sister, granddaughter as well has his own)  

Lutèce Arenas

Go down the stairs marking the end Rue Rollin and cross the road. Turn left, walk a few meters down rue Monge, and stop in front of 49 rue Monge. This is one of the entrances of the Arènes de Lutèce (Lutetia Arenas). During the Roman civilization, the original name of Paris was Lutetia. For entertainment purposes, an arena was built near the Roman village. This is where gladiators once fought to death, or where naval battles took place (the arena was filled with water). This amphitheater could once seat 15,000 people. It was used as a cemetery later on, and filled in completely with the construction of the Wall of Philippe Auguste in the 13th century. The arena was discovered in 1860, when the city of Paris attempted to build an omnibus depot here.

Parisianist Fun Fact: Victor Hugo, author of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and savior of Notre Dame, also headed a committee to preserve the Arena.

Medieval Wall

Exit the Arena the way you came in, and walk down Rue Monge. Take a left (Rue du Cardinal Lemoine), and then the second street to the right (Rue Clovis). A few meters away, on your left, you will see what remains of the Wall of Philippe Auguste. The King of France Philippe Auguste had the wall built between 1190 and 1215 in order to protect Paris from a possible English invasion. The wall was destroyed in the 16th century, yet some parts are still visible, like this section here.

Parisianist Fun Fact: moats were dug outside the city walls, which were later used as open air sewers. Because of health issues, the moats were filled up in the 17th century. 

Saint Etienne du Mont

Walk up the road (Rue Clovis) until you reach the end. On your right is the entrance to Saint Etienne du Mont Church. Saint Etienne, patron of a medieval church later replaced by Notre Dame, was attributed a new church built in 1222. This church was later enlarged to what it is today, hence its interesting composite structure. The highlight of Saint Etienne du Mont church is the shrine of Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris who supposedly saved the city from an invasion by Attila the Hun in the 5th century.  Famous 17th century mathematician Blaise Pascal and dramatist Racine are both buried in this church.

Parisianist Tip: Go all the way to the back of the church. There is a large separate room where you can see beautiful stained glass windows from up close. For once, no need to look up!


Across Saint Etienne du Mont church is a massive monument: the Pantheon (7,50€, 10AM to 6PM daily). The entrance to the Pantheon faces the Luxembourg Gardens, on the opposite side of the church. Built in the 18th century by King Louis XV as a church dedicated to Sainte Geneviève, the building changed from church to pantheon several times during the years. Since 1885 though, it has remained a pantheon, serving as the final resting place to those who have made some of the most important contributions to France.

Parisianist Tip: the Pantheon is currently under renovation, but the building is still open to the public, and definitely worth a visit.


Take Rue Soufflot and walk down to the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens). Make sure you catch a view of the beautiful Pantheon dome while walking downhill. The Jardin du Luxembourg is a fine combination of French and English gardens with a 250 year old history. The highlight is the Fontaine de Médicis, located to the right when you walk through the gates at the end of Rue Soufflot. The French gardens facing the Luxembourg Palace (now home to the Senate) is also a must see. The RER station “Luxembourg” is right outside the eastern entrance, where you came from.

Parisianist Tip: Should you wish to continue discovering the origins of Paris, proceed to Part II.

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