The Square René Viviani is located to the north of the Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church, which is a Melkite Greek Catholic parish church resident in one of the oldest religious buildings in the city. The square is an irregular polygon in shape, bounded by the Rue Galande and church buildings to the south; by the Rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre on the west; by the Quai de Montebello to the north; and by the Rue Lagrange and the Rue du Fouarre on the east. The Rue de la Bûcherie ends on the western side of the square, but it resumes its course on the eastern side, and the Pont au Double, a bridge to the Île de la Cité, lies across the Quai de Montebello from the square. The Square René Viviani offers one of the best views of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in all of Paris.
Around the corner, in the Rue Bûcherie, stands the well-known English-language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company
Inside the square, there are two features, other than the lawns, walkways, well-trimmed plane trees, and benches, that deserve a mention here. There is an odd-looking fountain, known as the Saint Julien fountain, that was erected in 1995. It is the work of the French sculptor, Georges Jeanclos (1933–1997), and it is emblematic of the legend of St. Julien the Hospitaller, a tale, now largely discounted, involving a curse by witches, a talking deer, a case of mistaken identity, an horrific crime, several improbable coincidences, and a supernatural intervention. The story was told and retold during the Middle Ages, and it became a favorite. Consequently, hospitals, hospices, and churches all over Europe adopted Julien as their patron. He was also a patron saint of hunters, innkeepers, and ferrymen; traveling pilgrims often prayed for his help in finding comfortable lodgings.
The other feature worthy of note is an ancient tree that is surrounded by a circular curbstone. Its significance is described below.
Before 1909, this plot was occupied by one of the annexes of the Hôtel-Dieu, the ancient Paris hospital on the nearby Île de la Cité. In even earlier times, monastic buildings, dormitories and a refectory belonging to the Clunesian priory of St. Julien, occupied this site. Earlier still, this place was a cemetery established next to a 6th-century basilica, the original Church of St. Julien. Merovingian-era graves and tombs were excavated near the walls of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre during the 19th century. Some of the relics are now in the Carnavalet Museum.
Here and there on the square, there are odd pieces of carved stone. They are pieces of architectural rubble salvaged from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, when, during the 19th century, the exterior of the cathedral was partially restored by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Many of the most seriously degraded pieces of carved limestone were replaced by newly carved reproductions, and the older pieces were eventually deposited here.
The square is noted for being the site of the oldest planted tree in Paris. The robinia pseudoacacia, a species commonly known as a locust tree, is believed to have been planted by its namesake, Jean Robin (1550–1620), in 1601; if so, it has now been standing on the rive gauche for over four hundred years. It is presently supported by two concrete crutches. The tree lost its upper branches to a shell during World War I, but it proves its continuing vitality by blooming every year. Despite some speculation about its true age, it is universally recognized as the oldest tree in the city.
The Square René Viviani is:
|Located near the metro stations: Maubert-Mutualité, Saint-Michel or Cluny - La Sorbonne.|
It is served by lines 4 and 10.
The Square René Viviani was named for the former French prime minister, René Viviani (1863–1925), and it was opened for public enjoyment in 1928.
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