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St-Sulpice to the Odéon
France > Paris > Left Bank > St-Germain > St-Sulpice to the Odéon

South of boulevard St-Germain, the streets around the church of St-Sulpice (see below) are calm and classy. Rue Mabillon is pretty, with a row of old houses set back below the level of the modern street. On the left stand the halles St-Germain, incorporating a swimming pool, gym, auditorium and commercial complex, built on the site of a fifteenth-century market. Rue Mabillon leads through to the front of the enormous church of St-Sulpice (daily 7.30am–7.30pm), an austerely classical edifice, erected either side of 1700, with a Doric colonnade surmounted by an Ionic, and Corinthian pilasters in the towers. Uncut masonry blocks still protrude from the south tower, awaiting the sculptor's chisel. The gloomy interior, containing three Delacroix murals in the first chapel on the right, including one of St-Michael slaying a dragon, is not to everyone's taste. But, softened by the chestnut trees and fountain of the square, the ensemble is peaceful and harmonious.

On the sunny north side of place St-Sulpice, the outside tables at the Café de la Mairie hum with trendy chatter on fine days, but the main attractions here are the fashion boutiques, like the very elegant Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, on the corner of the ancient rue des Canettes – though Yves himself has finally quit. Further along the same side of the place, there's Saint Laurent for men, and from there on it's spend, spend, spend down rues Bonaparte, Madame, de Sèvres, de Grenelle, du Four, des Saints-Pères . . .

Hard to believe now, but smack in the middle of all this, at the carrefour de la Croix Rouge, there was a major barricade in 1871, fiercely defended by Eugène Varlin, one of the leading lights of the Commune. He was later betrayed by a priest, half-beaten to death and shot by government troops on Montmartre hill. These days you're more likely to be suffering from till-shock than shell-shock. You may feel safer in rue Princesse at the small, friendly and well-stocked American bookshop, The Village Voice, where you can browse through the latest literature and journals. Or you could retreat to the less stylish eastern edge of the quartier, around boulevard St-Michel, where the university is firmly implanted, its attendant bookshops displaying scientific and medical tomes, as well as skeletons and instruments of medical torture. Rue Monsieur le Prince is lined with inexpensive restaurants, many of them Japanese, as well as the classic bistro, Polidor. Heading south along rue de l'Odéon, towards the Luxembourg gardens, you can take in the Doric portico of the Théâtre de l'Odéon en route.


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