Culture

Metro Magic: Cluny/La Sorbonne Takes Flight in the Heart of Paris

This is the sixth in a monthly series of stories about the wonders of the Paris Metro System.
A quick rumble through the Cluny/La Sorbonne metro station on Line 10 reveals pristine white tiled walls and signs with ornate red typeface naming this historic stop.
Simple. Elegant. Minimalism at its best.
A minimal metro design, until . . . © Meredith Mullins That was my impression for many years, having never stepped out onto the platform —always flying by on my way to the next stops, Maubert Mutualité or Odéon. But there are surprises everywhere in Paris.
You might find someone actually reading a book at this station—in the heart of the Latin Quarter, a historic center of learning. © Meredith Mullins When you step out and look up at the vaulted ceiling, a majestic mosaic world emerges — a world reflecting the Latin Quarter legacy of culture and education.
Mosaic birds take flight. © Meredith Mullins Beautiful bird wings flutter across the curved white sky, perhaps signifying the free-spirited heart of the Latin Quarter. And upscale mosaic “graffiti” (the ultimate in artistic tagging) reminds us of the movers and shakers in Latin Quarter life.
The Artistry of Jean Bazaine
The dramatic ceiling was designed by French artist Jean René Bazaine. Although he was a painter in the Modern School of Paris (including a solo exhibit at the Grand Palais in 1990), he was most noted for his mosaics and stained glass.
Detail from Bazaine’s ‘Les Oiseaux’ on the vaulted station ceiling. © Meredith Mullins

This is the sixth in a monthly series of stories about the wonders of the Paris Metro System.

A quick rumble through the Cluny/La Sorbonne metro station on Line 10 reveals pristine white tiled walls and signs with ornate red typeface naming this historic stop.

Simple. Elegant. Minimalism at its best.

A minimal metro design, until . . . © Meredith Mullins

That was my impression for many years, having never stepped out onto the platform —always flying by on my way to the next stops, Maubert Mutualité or Odéon. But there are surprises everywhere in Paris.

You might find someone actually reading a book at this station—in the heart of the Latin Quarter, a historic center of learning. © Meredith Mullins

When you step out and look up at the vaulted ceiling, a majestic mosaic world emerges — a world reflecting the Latin Quarter legacy of culture and education.

Mosaic birds take flight. © Meredith Mullins

Beautiful bird wings flutter across the curved white sky, perhaps signifying the free-spirited heart of the Latin Quarter. And upscale mosaic “graffiti” (the ultimate in artistic tagging) reminds us of the movers and shakers in Latin Quarter life.

The Artistry of Jean Bazaine

The dramatic ceiling was designed by French artist Jean René Bazaine. Although he was a painter in the Modern School of Paris (including a solo exhibit at the Grand Palais in 1990), he was most noted for his mosaics and stained glass.

Detail from Bazaine’s ‘Les Oiseaux’ on the vaulted station ceiling. © Meredith Mullins

When offered this metro commission by Minister of Culture Jack Lang, he saw this station, with its unique middle track between the two working tracks, as an expansive cathedral. He also wanted to pay homage to the masters of the Sorbonne and of French history.

The high-flying birds are made of 60,000 enameled lava tiles from Volvic, a region in the Auvergne carved by volcanic eruptions of the past. One bird appears in a primarily blue palette and one in a palette of mostly reds. The birds shimmer in the soft lighting of the station — a lighting design by Bazaine himself to avoid the effects of “violent” lighting. (Note to RATP: It may be a bit too subtle. It’s pretty dark up there.)

Volvic lava tiles intricately pieced together. © Meredith Mullins

Bazaine surrounds his noble birds with the signatures of dignitaries of the neighborhood — artists, writers, philosophers, scientists, and statesmen.

Painter Gustave Courbet makes the wall of fame. © Meredith Mullins

With luck and perseverance, you will find Louis XIV, Marie Curie, Voltaire, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Balzac, Delacroix, Courbet, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Louis Pasteur, Ignace de Loyola, Molière, Robespierre, and many more.

Molière is not hard to find, thanks to readable handwriting. © Meredith Mullins

Most of the celebrities’ signatures are like unintelligible doctors’ notes; and the mosaic pieces, while artistic, make for less than fluid handwriting. So you may be looking at the ceiling for quite a while — lost in Parisian history. Not a bad place to spend some time.

Any guesses? © Meredith Mullins

A Chapter as a Phantom Station

The Cluny station was originally built in 1930, near the Musée de Cluny (or Musée Nationale du Moyen Age), but was closed in 1939 as a war energy conservation measure since it was close to other stations.

It remained one of those mysterious Paris ghost stations until 1988 when it was reopened under a new name that included its proximity to the Sorbonne and added a connection to the RER B and C at Saint-Michel—Notre-Dame.

The metro nearest to the Sorbonne. © Meredith Mullins

When you emerge from the station, you are steps away from the Ile de la Cité and all its rewards, the Sorbonne University, the neighborhood McDonald’s, and the Saint-Séverin church where you can see beautiful abstract stained glass windows also by Bazaine. It is truly the heart of Paris.

Don’t miss Bazaine’s abstract stained glass at the nearby Saint-Séverin church. © Meredith Mullins

However, your first glance is of the Musée de Cluny, with its remnants of second century Gallo-Roman baths, the medieval mansion built in the 14th century that houses the museum, the fine collection of medieval art, and the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestry. (Note the museum is currently closed for renovation, with an expected reopening this spring.)

Near the metro entrance, a glance at the Musée de Cluny and its garden. © Meredith Mullins

A journey into history— remnants of the Gallo-Roman baths at the Musée de Cluny. © Meredith Mullins

The Metro Moral

The moral of this metro story: Don’t forget to look up (and down … and all around). There are treasures everywhere in Paris.

Don’t forget to get out and look up. © Meredith Mullins

Lead photo credit : Detail of Les Oiseaux in the Cluny/Sorbonne metro station. © Meredith Mullins