Rue du Fouarre – from illustrious to dirtiest to unknown but interesting

Rue du Fouarre – from illustrious to dirtiest to unknown but interesting.

Rue du Fouarre in the 5th arrondissement of the Sorbonne district of Paris has a changeable history, but remains a location for education. In the 13th century, it was called ‘the most illustrious street in Paris’ but by the 19th century, it was called ‘one of the dirtiest streets in the 12th arrondissement’ – at a time when it was part of the 12th district until the zones were re-named.  

It is a short and narrow street of 50 metres long and 17.6 metres wide, starting at the intersection with Rue Lagrange (Barn Street) and ending at Rue Galande.

The street was created in 1202 when Mathieu de Montmorency and his wife Matilde de Garlande ceded their land to build houses. The street was called Rue des Écoliers (Schoolchildren Street) because one of the first schools in Paris was located on the street.

In 1264, the street name changed to Rue des Écoles (Schools Street) when the first University of Paris – La Sorbonne – and the College of Picardy were built in the location. 

Around 1300, the street became Rue au Feurre (Hay Street) because schoolchildren sat on hay, or straw, when they attended classes. The spelling became Fouarre some time before 1320.

Author of Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), attended college in Rue au Fouarre under the tutelage of philosopher Siger of Brabant.

In 1358, Sorbonne University staff closed off the street at night with two doors – one placed at each end of the street. 

In 1535, Parliament ordered the two doors to be placed there to prevent the public from accessing the street during the day because they were causing too much noise for the students. 

Scholar and author of The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, Francois Rabelais (born between 1483-1494, and died in 1553), wrote that his character Pantagruel studied on this street:

‘And first, on Rue du Fouarre, he defended his theses against all professors, students of fine arts, and orators, and put all their asses on the ground.’

Honoré de Balzac’s (1799-1850), in his novel Prohibition (L’Interdiction), wrote that judge Jean-Jules Popinot resided around the year 1828 in the Rue du Fouarre:

‘The Rue du Fouarre, a word that once meant Rue de la Paille [Straw Street], was in the thirteenth century the most illustrious street in Paris. There were the schools of the University, when the voices of Abeilard and Gerson resounded in the scholarly world. It is today one of the dirtiest streets in the twelfth arrondissement, the poorest district of Paris, the one in which two-thirds of the population lacks wood in winter, the one that throws the most marmots around the Foundlings, the most sick at the Hôtel-Dieu, the most beggars in the streets, which sends the most ragpickers to the corner of the terminals,  the most elderly people suffering along the walls where the sun shines, the most unemployed workers in the squares, the most defendants in the Correctional Police.’

Rue du Fouarre was renovated and widened in 1887 and the southern part of the street joined Rue Lagrange, and adopted the name in 1890, thus shortening Rue du Fouarre to its present length.  

Today, the façade of building at Number 6 shows signs of its school days, and is currently used for teaching French language classes. It lies close to the Seine, close to restaurants, the Sorbonne University, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the Shakespeare and Company English-language bookstore. 

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