The cultural achievements and traditions of France are second to none, and her legacy to science is in the top rank of all nations. In the physical sciences, the names of René Descartes (1596-1650), Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-1794), Le Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749-1827), André Marie Ampére (1775-1836), Pierre Berthelot (1827-1907), Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908), Pierre Curie (1859-1906) and Marie Curie (1867-1934) are of great significance, and their ideas and discoveries have in large measure shaped the modern world and the way we think. The same is true in the fields of biology and medicine, where all the following have had their impact: Ambroise Pare (1509-1590), Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761), Le Chevalier Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829), Francois Magendie (1783-1855), Claude Bernard (1813-1878), Paul Bert (1833-1886), and Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). We will have much to say about many of these.

On the whole France is very good at preserving the historical aspects of the culture, but there have been some lapses, in particular the destruction that took place during their revolution (1789). A sorry chapter in human history, from which the historical associations of biology and medicine did not escape. Despite this, France is a wonderful country in which to see many aspects of biological and medical history. However, we feel compelled to point out that in order to do this effectively, it would be well if the visitor spoke a little French. It is important to realize that in France most museums and national monuments are closed on Tuesdays.

Roads in France are good, but it should be noted that almost all their “Autoroutes” are toll roads. All road directions we give are from Paris. The French National Railway (SNCF) is one of the finest in the world, with services to most parts of France. There are also many bus services.

Arbois (Jura)

Location – 390 kilometers southeast of Paris.
Train – From Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Dijon and Dôle, and then by taxi or bus to Arbois.
Road – Take the A6 (la Route du Sud) to the south and exit at Beaune onto the N73 towards Dôle. Before entering Dôle turn right onto the N5 towards Vaudrey and at Vaudrey branch onto the N469 (also the D469) to Arbois.

Arbois, Jura is a pleasant small town in Eastern France, not far from the Swiss border, and it was here in 1827 that the parents of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)–see under Dôle and Paris—established the family home, “Maison Familiale,” which is now the Musée Louis Pasteur, and virtually a French national shrine. Pasteur was brought up here, and often returned here during his life.

Musée Louis Pasteur

83 rue de Courcelles
Opening hours:
April 15 – September 30. Daily 10.00 – 12.00 and 14.00 – 17.30.
November 1 – April 14. Daily 10.00 – 11.30 and 14.00 – 15.30.
Closed Tuesdays.
Small charge for admission.
There is a guided tour (in French) every half hour.
It should be noted that there is another Pasteur Museum in Dôle, only 30 kilometers away, and it is closed on Mondays. However, both should be visited while in the area.

With the possible exception of Napoleon Bonaparte, no Frenchman is held in higher esteem than Louis Pasteur. He was certainly one of the great geniuses of all time, and his contributions to human welfare are unsurpassed.
Louis Pasteur’s father, Jean-Joseph Pasteur, was a native of Besancon and a tanner by trade. He served with distinction in the Grand Army of Napoleon, but after the latter’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Jean-Joseph was discharged from the army, and settled in Dôle in a house on the banks of the river Doubs where he could pursue his tanner’s trade. Here in 1822 Louis was born, but when he was 5 his family moved to nearby Arbois, where the family home was established, and where Louis was brought up. His father was an avid believed in education, and took a personal interest in the schooling of his children to the point of going over their homework every evening and making sure they were progressing satisfactorily. Louis attended the local school in Arbois, but when he was 17 went to the Royal College in nearby Besancon. At this time, he displayed a remarkable talent for art (drawing, painting, etc.), and in fact he worked at this, from time to time, all his life. The art work he left is of high quality, and there is no doubt he could have been a professional artist had he so desired. Three years later in 1842 he received an arts degree from the Royal College, but it was not until he went to Paris the following year that he displayed an aptitude for science. In Paris he was admitted as a chemistry student to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure (see under Paris), then, as now, France’s top college. Here he studies for 4 years, receiving his doctor’s degree in 1847 with a thesis on crystallography. This terminated his formal education, and despite his immense contributions to biology and medicine, Pasteur was never a biologist or medical doctor. The research which he did for his doctoral thesis is known best to organic chemists, but his discoveries have had enormous impact far and wide. Basically what he accomplished was to show that two or more compounds of identical composition (he worked with tartaric acid) may display totally different properties, and he demonstrated that this was due to isomerism (i.e., the different arrangement of the atoms within the molecule). With this demonstration, stereochemistry (space chemistry) may be said to have begun, and the effects of this on chemistry, biology and medicine have been profound. Very few scientists have contributed really significant ideas and become famous while they were students. Sir Isaac Newton was one, so was Marie Curie, and Louis Pasteur was another.

In 1849, Pasteur was made a professor at the University of Strasbourg in eastern France. Here he continued his studies of crystallography, but perhaps more important to him personally was that here he met and married Marie Laurent, the daughter of the Rector of the university. She was his devoted wife until his death 46 years later, and she outlived him by 15 years. Madame Marie Pasteur, catered to her husband’s needs, nursed him through illnesses, and brought up their children. She indeed is entitled to share in the triumphs of her husband, and the praise showered upon him.
His appointment at Strasbourg was followed in 1854 by a similar one at the University of Lille in Northern France, and here he started his work on the causes of fermentation which was to lead to his most important discoveries, both theoretical and practical. His appointment at Lille lasted only three years, for in 1857 he returned to his old college, the École Normale Supérieure, in Paris as Director of Scientific Studies. The research he started in Lille was on the phenomenon of fermentation, and it is important to realize that at that time virtually nothing was known as to how this took place. What Pasteur demonstrated was that it was the presence of minute but living organisms which caused fermentation, and that some of these microorganisms grew in the absence of free oxygen. In time he also demonstrated the putrefaction was due to the presence of living organisms. The resulting applications of these discoveries were striking and rapid in coming, for not only did they open up a rational explanation of many biological phenomena, but also a means of controlling them. Thus it was possible to understand and control the fermentation of such things as beer and wine. In 1863 Pasteur was credited with saving the French wine industry, and no Frenchman ever performed a more patriotic act than that! This work also quickly lead to the process was now call pasteurization, with all its beneficial consequences. The significance of his explanation of putrefaction was quickly understood by Joseph Lister in England (see under Glasgow and Edinburgh), and led to Lister’s work in antiseptic surgery and therapy. Indeed Pasteur’s work on microorganisms laid the foundation of the whole concept of the “term theory of disease” with all its subsequent ramifications.

Pasteur’s work on microorganisms also led him to a solution of a very important biological problem. In the middle of the 19th century, it was a hotly debated subject as to whether microbes could arise in the absence of other microbes. That is, could they come into existence by the so-called process of “spontaneous generation” from inanimate material? At that time it was not an easy problem to solve, but by rigorous design and clever experimentation he proved, in a remarkably short period of time, that spontaneous generation of microbes was a myth, and that all microbes were descended from other microbes. His conclusions have never been seriously challenged since.

By this time Pasteur was a very famous man, and his advice and services much in demand. In 1865, at the request of the French Government and the Emperor Napoleon III, he undertook to study the diseases of the silkworms which at the time were devastating the important silk industry. These studies took nearly 5 years, which were interrupted for a long period in 1868 when Pasteur suffered a severe stroke which caused permanent paralysis of his left side—he was only 46. However, he recovered sufficiently to continue his work, and in due course not only solved the problems that were destroying the French silk industry, but at the same time realized the importance of experimental research on microorganisms in the study of biology and pathology. As a result of this realization he went on in the years that followed to attack the problems of many virulent diseases, including anthrax in sheep, chicken cholera and puerperal fever in humans. His successes were truly remarkable; one vaccine after the next was developed, including the attenuation of viruses which gave a means of controlling the deadly disease rabies, and subsequently many others.

As Pasteur grew older, the pace at which he worked inevitably declined. The French Government built in his honor, the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which contained private apartments for him and his wife. These are now a magnificent museum (see under Paris), but the research work of the institute, today greatly expanded, continues in the Pasteur tradition. However, the culminating tribute to Pasteur occurred on December 27, 1892, his seventieth birthday, when France honored him in a public ceremony held in the main theater of the Sorbonne. Almost every country in the world was represented, along with a distinguished international group of scientists. Pasteur was by this time in poor health, and his voice weak, but he bravely replied to the honors conferred upon him, and in so doing his life-long humanitarianism shone through. He said in part, “You have come from so far to give a proof of sympathy for France, you bring me the deepest joy a man can experience, who believes invincibly that science and peach will triumph over ignorance and war; that peoples will come to a common understanding, not to destroy but to build, and that the future will belong to those who will have done most for suffering humanity…”–Modern political leaders please note!

Louis Pasteur has often been described as the “ideal scientist,” because not only were his scientific discoveries of unsurpassed importance and benefit, but all his life he was devoted to his country, his parents, his wife, his children and humanity at large. He was always in sympathy with those in trouble, and no one ever did more to help them.

The Maison Familiale in Arbois, together with the Maison Natale in Dôle, are owned and operated by the “Societé des Amis de la Maison Natale de Pasteur à Dôle.” Each house has a curator (“le gardien”). There have been no essential alterations to the house in Arbois since Pasteur’s day, and it is beautifully preserved. There is a ground floor, with two floors above, and the rooms are furnished with many objects associated with Pasteur and his family. His laboratory and study are located upstairs, and the former has a lot of the equipment he used for his experiments. In his study is a magnificent library, which contains all his works in their first editions, as well as much more. There are also many original documents, etc. associated with him. A visit to this museum, dedicated to preserving the memory of Louis Pasteur is a thrilling experience for one and all. The visitor to Arbois should also see the very lovely statue of Pasteur in the main square of the town, an easy walk from the Maison Familiale.

BEAUNE (Côte-d’Or)

Location – 310 kilometers southeast of Paris.
Train – From Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Dijon and Beaune.
Road – Take the A6 (la Route du Sud) to the south and exit at Beaune.

Beaune, Côte-d’Or, is primarily noted for two things. First it is the focal point of the Burgundy wine area, and secondly it has one of the oldest surviving hospitals in the world. It is a fascinating old town, with origins as far back as the 7th century. At first it was the capital of a separate Duchy, but in 1227 this was united to Burgundy, and became the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy. It is commonly referred to as “the wine capital of the world,” and every year merchants come from the four corners of the earth to sample and bid for the wines of the area.

Hôtel Dieu

Place Carnot
Opening hours:
Daily, 9.00 – 11.15 and 14.00 – 17.00
Small charge for admission.
It may be seen by guided tour only. These tours are in French, but a printed
English summary is available.

The Hôtel Dieu is one of the oldest surviving hospitals in the world. It was founded in 1443 by Nicholas Rolin, Chancellor of Burgundy, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, in response to the misery prevailing at the time. It was initially an endowed institution, and possessed large areas of land. These lands, then as now, are largely vineyards producing some of the best wines in the world. Thus while the buildings are old, and the rules, customs and uniforms of the nursing sisters remain the same as when the hospital began caring for the sick, the vast wealth provided by its vineyards has enabled it to have the finest equipment and doctors in France.

By far the most impressive part of the hospital is “La Grand Salle,” sometimes referred to as the Paupers Ward. It is in fact a combined hospital ward and chapel, so arranged that the patients confined to bed could take part in the religious services going on in the chapel; the overriding concern of the hospital being to save the soul as well as the body! This ward was used regularly until 1948, but is now simply maintained as a showpiece. It is 52 meters long, 16 meters high with a gothic vault, and a very impressive place. The beds down each side of the ward are “inbuilt,” with double beds for two patients each! The chapel was damaged during the revolution, but was restored in the 19th century. It contains some magnificent stained glass windows. Other areas of immense interest include the Great Courtyard, the original kitchens and the dispensary. The latter, restored in the 18th century, contains a remarkable collection of historical eating utensils used by the sick; jugs, mugs, bowls, etc., as well as drugs, medicines and medical instruments. Finally there is a special room housing the famous painting of “the Last Judgment” (painted about 1444) by Roger Van de Weyden, which was commissioned for the original hospital by its founder, Nicholas Rolin, and has been there ever since.

The Hôtel-Dieu is not only a very interesting architectural structure, but is of great interest in the history of medicine. Long may it live, and the vineyards that support it! The visitor to Beaune should also not miss the Wine Museum, formerly the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, and the Jules-Etienne Marey museum in the Hotel de Ville. He was a pioneer photographer.

DOLE (Jura)

Location – 360 kilometers southeast of Paris.
Train – Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Dijon and Dôle.
Road – Take the A6 (la Route du Sud) to the south and exit at Beaune onto the N73 which leads directly into Dôle.

Dôle, Jura, has a history going back to Roman times. Later it was part of the Duchy of Burgundy until 1479 when it was captured and burnt by the army of Louis XI. Later still it fell into Austrian hands, but in 1674 was restored to France by Louis XIV. Perhaps more important than all this however, is that it was here, in 1822, that Louis Pasteur- see under Arbois and Paris) was born in his parents’ house on the banks of a canal adjoining the river Doubs. The house is now a museum.

La Maison Natale de Pasteur

43 rue Louis Pasteur
Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00 – 12.00 and 14.00 – 16.00.
Closed Mondays.
Small charge for admission.
A tour (in French) is available.

La Maison de Pasteur is just off the Quai Pasteur on the Tanners Canal, which is a short walk from the main street of the town. The house was built in 1750, and on December 27th, 1822, Louis Pasteur was born in one of the front rooms. It is preserved much as it would have been at that time. The other principle room in the house is, “La Salle A. Ventard.” This was originally the tanner’s drying room, but now a museum with a host of memorabilia very well displayed. The room is rich in documents and papers concerning Pasteur’s chalk drawings and other art work, for which he had a remarkable talent. Visitors should also not miss the basement (Les Caves) of the house, with all the apparatus of the tanner’s trade still preserved. Finally there is a very imposing status of Pasteur in the park nearby.

It is hard to choose between this museum and the one in Arbois, both are truly gems, and both give an insight into the very simple background of Louis Pasteur, a simplicity to which he continued to adhere all his life.


Location – 750 kilometers south of Paris.
Train – Paris (Gare de Lyon) direct to Montpellier.
Road – Take the A6 (la Route du Sud) as far as Lyon. Then joint the A7 to Orange and the A9 to Montpellier.

Montpellier is on the river Lez and situated only some 10 kilometers from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Originally it was a port, but over the centuries the land filled in, and the town of Sete is now Montpellier’s port. Today Montpellier is a large, prosperous industrial town with a most interesting blend of the very old and the very new. The south of France is one of the most pleasant places on earth, something the Romans found out when they conquered the area (125-121 B.C.), and established a large province connecting Italy and Spain, which they called “Provence,” a name which still survives. Montpellier was one of the chief Roman towns in the province, and has played a prominent role ever since. The Roman rule of the area lasted until the end of the 4th century A.D., and although then overthrown by Germanic hordes with terrible destruction, Roman culture nevertheless left its indelible mark which is still present today. For the next four centuries the area saw one conquest after the next, until Charlemagne (768-814) restored the Roman order. From this time until the present the area of Provence has prospered or suffered along with the rest of France. However, so far as Montpellier is concerned there is one period of great importance and that is the Wars of Religion, with Protestants against Roman Catholics, from 1520-1540. The French themselves described his period as “the most ghastly in their history,” and Montpellier, being a center of Protestantism, suffered badly. However, the scars of this devastation have largely healed, and today Montpellier is a blend of streets with their origins in the middle ages, the elegant 19th century Place de la Comedie (the town center) and ultra modern areas. But above all there is the superb old Medical School and the nearby Botanic Garden.


Le Faculté de Médecine

Rue de l’École de Médecine
(Off the Boulevard Henri IV)
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
No charge for admission.

The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Montpellier is the oldest surviving medical school in the western world, and was for centuries one of the world leaders. Today it is still one of the foremost in France. One may walk through the public hallways and theaters, but permission from the Dean’s office is required to see the restricted rooms and libraries. However, this can be obtained by really interested persons. The main building adjoins the cathedral, which indicates the religious origins of the school, and both can be seen at the same time.

The Faculty of Medicine, and with it the University of Montpellier, was founded on the 17th of August, 1221 by Cardinal Conrad, a papal legate from Pope Urban V, who was at that time the Pope at Avignon. Thus it has been in continuous existence for over 700 years. However, there is every evidence that medicine was studied in Montpellier long before 1221. This was in the rabbinic schools going back to the 11th century, and the names of some of the professors in these schools are actually preserved and are considered the forerunners of the faculty of medicine.

The building housing the present medical school was originally a monastery, and much of its 13th century walls survive intact. During the religious wars of the 16th century some of this building was destroyed, but in the following two centuries was rebuilt on the same foundations. The great anatomy, theater was added in the 19th century. The basement (Salle Lapidaire or Salle Capitulaire) is an original room dating from the 13th century monastery, and the modern electron microscope rests on a 13th century wall!
In a special room of the library are housed an incredible collection of documents concerning the history of the university over its 700 years of existence. One of these dates from 1331, and comes from Philippe VI de Valois, who was the first kind of France after Montpellier became part of France; in it he confirms the privileges of the university.
In the central entrance hallway, with its beautiful 18th century staircase, are a collection of busts of the great doctors going back to Hippocrates (460-357 B.C.), and also plaques showing the names of virtually all the professors of the medical school from the rabbinic period of the 11th century to the present day.

As the medical school has been in continuous existence for so long one might expect a superb historical library, and indeed this is the case. The office of the Dean is virtually an adjunct to the library, with huge circular stacks containing priceless old books. There are also two magnificent conference rooms (Salle des Actes), one for faculty, and one where graduates receive their degrees. The latter contains portraits of all their famous graduates going back to 1239, and include Francois Rabelais (1490-1553), who received his medical training there in 1537. The original matriculation entry with his signature is actually preserved in the library. It is perhaps significant that unlike many modern medical schools, graduates from Montpellier are still required to take the Hippocratic oath.

It is of great interest that right down to the time of the revolution, virtually all faculty were professors of anatomy in the winter and professors of botany in the summer! One of these, Pierre Richer de Belleval was the founder of the botanic garden and it has a close association with the medical school, both historically and physically.

Le Jardin des Plantes

Boulevard Henri IV
Opening hours:
Monday – Friday, 8.00 – 12.00 and 14.00 – 18.00
Saturdays, 8.00 – 12.00. Closed Sundays.
No charge for admission.

The Botanic Garden of Montpellier is one of the oldest in the world, and in Europe is perhaps exceeded in age only by those at Padua (see under Padua, Italy) and Leipiz, East Germany.
Medical schools have always had medicinal herb gardens attached to them, and the evidence is strong that these existed in Montpellier as far back as the origins of the medical school. Indeed, legend has it that Apollo had been wandering as an exile through the south of France, and was so charmed by the pure air, courteous citizens, and abundance of plants at Montpellier, that he decided to found a medical school and herb garden there. However, the present gardens were founded in 1593 as “Le Jardin du Roi” in an edict to the University of Montpellier by King Henri IV (1553-1610). At the same time Pierre Richer de Belleval (1558-1623) was appointed professor of anatomy and botany, and director of the garden, with royal patronage. Belleval was one of those rare individuals who went about his job with unparalleled zeal, placing the establishment of the garden above all else. He was always in trouble with both the administration and the students, and for the usual reasons! The administration complained that he did not attend committee meetings or other formal functions, and the students complained that he was never there. No, he was out botanizing, and if it hadn’t been for him there would be no botanic garden. We can get some idea of the enthusiasm botanists, then as now, get from botanizing, by quoting a German botanist, Leonard Fuchs, who wrote in 1542:

But there is no reason why I should dilate at greater length upon the
pleasantness and delight of acquiring knowledge of plants, since there
is no one who does not know that there is nothing in this life pleasanter
and more delightful than to wander over woods, mountains, plains,
garlanded and adorned with flowerlets and plants of various sorts, and most
elevant to boot, and to gaze intently upon them. But it increases that
pleasure and delight not a little, if there be added an acquaintance with the
virtues and powers of these same plants.

Fortunately, Belleval was more or less immune from the admonitions of administrators and students, for he had the personal patronage of the king. In the years that followed he traveled widely collecting plants, and under his directorship the garden flourished.

In the last decade of the 16th century, Montpellier was emerging from the terrible religious wars of the earlier part of the century. King Henri IV was more or less tolerant of Protestant Montpellier, and the university and town were thriving. But in the winter of 1621-1622 disaster struck. The new king, Louis XIII, was not as tolerant of Protestants as his predecessor, and decided to bring Montpellier to heel. This he did with a vengeance. His troops actually camped in Belleval’s newly established botanic garden and used the buildings for fortifications. It was completely destroyed! When Louis XIII entered the city and peace was restored, Belleval started all over again, and for the remaining years of his life once more put the garden above all else. With ups and downs, the garden has more or less prospered since then, and is still one of the best in the world. One might hope that by now everyone had learned to respect this triumph of scientific botany and beauty, but the dangers of the past have unfortunately not disappeared. As recently as 1975, there was a motion put before the Montpellier City Council to turn the botanic garden into a parking lot!

Over the main gate to the garden, and below the king’s arms are inscribed the words “Hic Argus Este et Non Biareus”—Be all eyes, not all hands here!– and lovers of plants will appreciate the sentiment. The garden specializes in research on tropical and subtropical plants, and because of the mild climate there is always a good deal in bloom, some of it very exotic. There are both old and new glasshouses, and very interestingly, a whole array of garden sculpture in the form of busts of famous botanists throughout the centuries. In the main administration building, there are extensive research laboratories, and a magnificent botanical library with holdings going back many centuries. The laboratories and library are not normally open to the public, but one may ask (preferably in French!) to see them.

In ending this section on Montpellier, we can only say that the historical fascination of the town and the pleasant climate are exceeded only by the excitement of their medical school and botanic garden.


Paris, the capital of France, is a vast city divided almost equally into two halves by the river Seine, the northern half being referred to as the right bank, and the southern half as the left bank. Paris is the unquestioned center of all French life, social, cultural, political, economic and administrative, and the variety of things to see and do are rivaled only by London. Visitors should avail themselves of good guidebooks and maps, and learn as quickly as possible how to use the excellent public transportation, particularly the underground trains (the Metro), but buses and taxis as well. Parisians have a saying that there are three very good and very cheap things in Paris, bread, wine, and the Metro—make use of them! Nothing however, beats walking to know a city, and Paris is a great city in which to walk. From a scientific point of view, with medicine and biology no exception, Paris has long been the focal point in France and there are many very interesting things to see.

It is appropriate that we start out with a few words of explanation about the University of Paris. Its founding goes back to the 13th century, when Pope Innocent III authorized the incorporation of a group of scholars, and from the very beginning there were various colleges. With the exception of a short period following the revolution, when it was closed by direct order of Napoleon Bonaparte, the university has been in continuous existence ever since, albeit with many changes. Today the University of Paris is a huge complex of semi-autonomous branches scattered all over Paris and its suburbs, but by far the most famous of these is “The Sorbonne.”

La Sorbonne

Place de la Sorbonne
Paris 5e
Opening hours:
Normal weekday hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro – Luxembourg, but Odéon or Maubert-Mutualité will do equally well.

The Sorbonne is on the left bank just off the Boulevard Saint Michel in the heart of the “student-latin quarter.” It was founded in 1252 by Robert de Sorbon (1201-1274) who was chaplain to King Louis IX (Saint Louis), and with the consent of the king. From its foundation until the revolution, it was devoted entirely to theology, and was perhaps the greatest center of religious study in Europe. This came to an abrupt end with the revolution, when the Sorbonne was closed and all its property confiscated. However, with the reorganization of the University of Paris in 1808, the Sorbonne was reopened and became the seat of three faculties, literature, science and theology. The present main building, bounded by the Rue Victor Cousin, Rue de la Sorbonne, Rue des Écoles, Rue Saint Jacques and Rue Cujas dates from 1889. It is a remarkable building, housing lecture halls, museums, laboratories, libraries, offices, an astonomy tower, amphitheaters and a chapel. Here in the nineteenth century many great French scientists worked, but today the Sorbonne is entirely Arts and Letters. It is a great experience to walk through the building with all its historical associations, but the “Pièce de résistance” is Le Grand Amphitheatre (entrance from Rue des Écoles). It may be seen, by permission, if it is not in use.

This amphitheater is of much historical interest to scientists, because it is here that many greater ceremonial events have taken place, including the public honoring of Louis Pasteur on the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1892. The amphitheater is in the grand French style. On the domes of the roof are murals of the symbols (all female!) of learning: literature, science, University of Paris, medicine and law. There are also life sized statues of Robert de Sorbon, Descartes. Lavoisier, Rollin, Pascal, Richelieu and others. Finally on the walls of the balcony outside the amphitheater itself are huge murals depicting various events in the history of learning. It is really a very impressive place.

Collège de France

11 Place Marcelin-Berthelot
(Off Rue des Écoles)
Paris 5e
Opening hours:
Normal weekday hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro – Maubert-Mutualité

The Collège De France is the premier academic institution in France. In French academic circles there is a popular saying “first you win the Nobel prize, then you will be elected to the Collège de France!” The college derives from the 17th century Royal College of France, but was founded in its present form in 1732 by Louis XV, and took its present name at the time of the revolution.

The function of the Collège de France is to supply a base for France’s top scholars in all academic fields, allowing them the security and freedom to develop a new area of knowledge. The college gives no instruction, and grants no degrees. About the only requirement imposed on its members is that they give a few public lectures a year, and anyone may attend these. Its critics complain that the members become narrow and entrenched, but nevertheless there have been some brilliant scholars who have been members of the Collège de France, including the Egyptologist Jean Champollion (1790-1832), the zoologist Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), the chemist Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900-1958), the physicist André Ampére (1775-1836), the poet Paul Valery (1871-1945), and most important for us, the physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878).

Outside the entrance to the Collège de France is a life-sized statue of Claude Bernard, whose life and work we describe under St. Julien-en-Beaujolais. Unfortunately in its prominent position it is subject to almost continuous vandalism! Nothing remains today of the laboratories in which Claude Bernard performed his brilliant work, however on the outside of the wing where he worked (on the Rue des Écoles) is a plaque commemorating his distinguished achievements there.

One may enter the Collège de France, by asking the permission of the concierge. However, visitors should remember that it is an active, working institution. Of particular interest is that in the director’s office is a fine collection of instruments, formerly belonging to Claude Bernard, as well as his death mask. These may be seen, by permission, if the director is not disturbed in so doing. In the Collège de France there are also busts, paintings, etc., of Claude Bernard and some of their other distinguished members.

Finally at 40 Rue des Écoles, directly opposite the Collège de France is the “Claude Bernard House.” This is now a private residence, but there is a plaque on the wall indicating that Claude Bernard lived there for many years and also died there on February 10, 1878.

Bibliothèque Saint Geneviève

10 Place du Panthéon
Paris 5e
Opening hours:
Normal weekday hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro – Luxembourg, but Cardinal Lemoine will do equally well.

This is the main library of the Sorbonne, and is only a short walk from the latter. Permission is normally granted to see the main reading room, and it is not difficult to obtain a temporary permit to use the library, which contains many medical books of great historic interest.
The origins of the library go back to various religious orders and the founding the Sorbonne in the 13th century. Until the revolution its holdings were mainly theology, but with the revolution all its holdings were nationalized. The University of Paris was completely reorganized, the scope of the library much enlarged and it now includes the natural sciences.
The present building dates from the middle of the 19th century, and may separate libraries were brought together there. Today it is one of the major libraries of France, with priceless collections going back five centuries. The building itself if an impressive structure. The main reading room is a classic piece of mid1-9th century architecture and we recommend a visit to all those interested in academic history. Of interest also in the Place du Panthéon is the Panthéon, a national shrine, where many of France’s great men are buried.

Musée de I’Histoire de la Médecine

Faculté de Médecine
Université de Paris
12 Rue d I’École de Médecine
Paris 6e
Opening hours:
Wednesday and Friday only, 14.00 – 18.00
No charge for admission.

This is one of several medical schools within the University of Paris. It is situated just off the Boulevard St. Germain, close to where it crosses the Boulevard St. Michel. It is a huge complex, but from our point of view what is important about it is that on the second and third floors of the main building is a superb historical medical museum. Its name is Musée de I’Histoire de la Médecine, and the “conservateur” is Madame Jacqueline Sonolet (1981). She is also conservateur (curator) of the Musée Claude Bernard in St. Julieen-Beaujolais (see elsewhere), and is obviously a master of the art. Madame Sonolet prefers to speak French, but in fact she speaks perfect English as well, and will always help out in the latter!

This is a very rich and well organized museum, with displays going back as far as Graeco-Roman times, but with heavy emphasis on the development of French medicine. It has a magnificent collection of prints and drawings going back centuries, and these are of extreme interest historically. There are also artifacts of all kinds. Although the museum is located in an old building, and crowded for space, it is not a static museum. One is brought right up to date with displays of modern instruments for microsurgery, and there are always new displays being arranged.

École Normale Supérieure

45 Rue D’Ulm
Paris 5e
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro – Port-Royal, but Censier-Daubenton will do equally well.

The École Normale Supérieure is located in the heart of the latin-student quarter., not far from the Sorbonne. Today this is the top educational institution in France and from an academic standpoint very elite. Only 55 students, carefully chosen from all over France, are admitted each year, and for 4 years they receive intensive training to get their degrees. The institution also awards doctorate degrees, and there are extensive facilities for research particularly in the sciences. From an historical point of view, of great interest is that Louis Pasteur (see under Arbois and Dôle) was the Director here from 1857-1867, and here also he performed some of his classic experiments.

This educational institution was founded in 1974 by “The Convention” at the time of the revolution. Its initial function was to train teachers for French schools, but it has gradually evolved into its present elite status. It has stood on its present site since 1847, though the buildings have been vastly expanded over the years.

The building of historical interest is at 45 Rue D’Ulm, and one enters through iron gates, behind which is a portico and the office of the concierge, and beyond this is a large courtyard in the form of a handsome garden. On the four walls surrounding the courtyard are busts of many famous Frenchmen, including Ampére, Lavosier, Juy-Lussac, Cuvier, Descartes, Moliére, Racine, LaFontaine, Voltaire, etc.—all very impressive, and even more so when it is realized that Louis Pasteur must have spent many hours in these same surroundings contemplating his next experiments.

However, “the gem” from a biologist’s point of view is a small building just inside and to the right of the main gates. On the outside is a plaque which reads as follows:

Le Laboratoire de Pasteur
Installe dans un grenier en 1857
fut etabli dans ce pavillion en 1860
et agrandi de batiments voisins
de 1862 – 1869

(The laboratory of Pasteur installed in a granary in 1857, was established in this pavilion in 1860, and enlarged by adding the adjoining building from
1862 – 1869.)

This in fact is where Pasteur performed some of his classic experiments. The building is now used as an infirmary for the school, and the Matron lives there. However with special permission, and if the Matron is not too busy, she will take you up to the second floor (1e etage) and show you the little attic cupboard (so small he had to work on his knees!) which Pasteur used as a culture room for his flasks. It was here that he did the experiments to disprove the “spontaneous generation of life.” There is a plaque outside the room commemorating the event, and the room is now used to store children’s toys. Pasteur would have been happy about this. It gives one a great sense of respect, even humility to see the simple place where this great man worked and transformed so many aspects of our lives.

École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimle Industrielles de la Ville de Paris

10 Rue Vanquelin
Paris 5e
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro- Censier-Daubenton, but Port-Royal or Place Monge will do equally well.

This educational institution is situated right next to the École Normale Supérieure. It is not of direct medical or biological importance, but rather of physics and chemistry, for it was here in 1898 that Pierre and Marie Curie discovered the element radium and coined the word “radioactivity.” There are a few things here which survive from this great and far-reaching event, and because of its importance to medicine and indeed all biology, we want to say a few words about this institution and the husband and wife who made such a momentous discovery here.

Marie Curie (1967-1934) was born Marya Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland, and from her earliest days she was recognized as a bright and enthusiastic student. Despite her parents’ genuine concern for education, she received a very mediocre formal education, but was an avid reader and was largely self educated. Because of poverty within her family, and in order to educate her brothers and sisters, she went to work as a governess and remained in this capacity for some years. In 1891 at the age of 24, she left Poland and traveled to Paris. Then, as now(!) Poland was under the domination of Russia, and to Marie, France was the land of liberty and opportunity. Her dreams were, in this case to be fulfilled. Upon arriving in Paris, she immediately resumed her education, and in 1893 received a degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Paris, ranking first in her class. The following year, while looking for a doctoral problem, she met Pierre Curie (1859-1906) at the École de Physique et Chimie where he was a professor, and went to work under him. They were married in 1895.
In the last decade of the 19th century, events were moving quickly in physics. In 1896, Henri Becquerel (1852-1908)—see under Musée National d’Historie Naturelle, Paris—had discovered and published his observations on the radioactivity of uranium, and these rays subsequently became known as Becquerel Rays. In 1898, just 3 years after Marie went to work in Pierre’s laboratory, she and Pierre isolated, for the first time, the highly radioactive element radium. In 1903 Marie received her somewhat delayed doctorate degree, and the same year, she, her husband and Henri Becquerel were awarded the Nobel prize for their work. As a result of their research a new era in physics and chemistry was opened, which has had profound consequences for us all. With the discovery of radioactivity and radium in particular, Marie firmly believed that she and her coworkers had found at least the ever-elusive “cure for cancer.” Unfortunately, this did not prove to be the case, though of course it has been of great value in controlling some aspects of the disease.
Up until this time, life had been hard for the Curies, but they were a happy couple and enjoyed a simple life. In 1906 Marie was made a professor at the Sorbonne, the first woman to hold such a post, but in the same year disaster struck with the dead of her husband, who was run over by a dray in the streets of Paris. Marie never really recovered from this, and her only compensation was to immerse herself in work. Her brilliant mind continued to unravel the mysteries of radioactivity and in 1911 she was awarded the Nobel prize for the second time. Honors and fame poured in for her, but she continued a quiet life and increasingly devoted her skills to medical applications of radiology. The harmful effects of radioactivity (unknown then), to which she was continuously exposed, took their toll on her health and she gradually became unable to work effectively. She died in a sanatorium in 1934. Marie was a remarkable human being, and her name will live on, perpetuated in “the curie” now the physical unit of radioactivity. One short epilogue, Marie and Pierre’s daughter, Irène, who became the wife of the French physicist Frédéric Joliot, also won the Nobel prize in 1935, a year after her mother’s death.

Unfortunately the laboratory of Pierre and Marie Curie at the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie does not survive, but the portico to the original institution does, and outside there is a plaque commemorating their discovery. However, in a hallway outside the director’s office (which can be seen by permission) is a case containing some of the Curies’ original apparatus and instruments. Also some of their own notes and published articles. To see these is well worth the effort, but it is a pity that more is not preserved of this momentous discovery.

Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle-Jardin des Plantes

Place Valhubert/Rue Cuvier/Rue Geoffroy ST. Hilaire
Paris 5e
Opening hours:
Daily, 8.00 – 10 minutes before sunset.
Various buildings are open at different times, but all are closed on Tuesdays.
No charge for admission.
Metro – Auesterilitz (which is the same as Gare d’Orléans). This is for the main entrance on Place Valhubert, but there are other entrances.

This massive institution is the principle Natural History complex of France, and it occupies a whole block facing onto the Seine along the Quai Saint Bernard and opposite the Pont d’Austerlitz. It was founded in 1635 as “Le Jardin Royal,” and initially was the Royal Medicinal Herb Garden of Louis XIII. However, under Louis XIV (1638-1715) it underwent great expansion both in size and functions. Botanists were sent out all over the world to collect plants and bring them back to Le Jardin Royal. Animals were also included in the collections, and geological specimens as well. In this way, a thriving institution of scientific botany, zoology and geology was established, and has more or less prospered ever since. With the coming of the revolution, Le Jardin Royal received a new charter and was renamed Le Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle. Today its operation comes under the ultimate authority of the Minister of Education, and its functions are collecting, research and education, not just in natural history, but in all the natural sciences. Many great scientists have worked here at one time or another.
In English-speaking countries we tend to emphasize the achievements of our own compatriots, and forget that the French (and other peoples) had their counterparts who made enormous contributions to human knowledge. For example Le Comte George Louis de Buffon (1708-1788), Le Chevalier Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829), Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) and Henri Becquerel (1952-1908)-see elsewhere -all worked at Le Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, and they played an enormous role in the development of biology. Thus a few words about them are in order.

Jean Baptiste Lamarck is probably the most maligned scientist in the English-speaking world. Professors of genetics commonly mention his name in an introductory lecture and then proceed to trample him underfoot and tell their students “never let me hear you mention his name.” However, that is a very short-sighted and totally false view of Lamarck, who in our opinion was secondary only to Darwin! He was born in the small village of Gazentine-le-Petit in northeastern France. His family is described as minor nobility without wealth, and the latter certainly characterizes Lamark’s life, for he was always poor, and at his death there was not even enough money to pay for his funeral. As a boy he studied under the Jesuits in Amiens, but this did not last long, and at the early age of 15, he joined the French Army. He saw active service, traveled widely, and most important of all, for his future career, began botanizing. After some 10 years in the army he was forced by ill health to leave, and found his way to Paris where he studied medicine. As a result of his botanical knowledge he was soon elected to the Academy of Sciences, and in 1788 was also appointed to the staff of Le Jardin du Roi. Lamarck took an active role in the reorganization of this garden at the time of the revolution, and when it subsequently became Le Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, he remained with it for the rest of his life and there he did all his important work. Lamarck’s private life can only be described as tragic. He married three times, each wife dying early in life, and he could never properly support his many children. Tragically also, he went completely blind for the last 10 years of his life.

Lamarck’s scientific works covered a wide range of knowledge of chemistry, meteorology and geology. Most important was the fact that he also tried to grasp the underlying principles of each discipline and did not concern himself with minor details. His fame rests on his magnificent botanical and zoological works, and above all on his clearly stated theory of evolution. His Fore Francaise, published in 3 volumes in 1779, not only described accurately all the then known French plants, but introduced a system of natural classification much better than that of Carl Linnaeus, and this classification probably set his mind to work on his eventual theory of evolution. He did much the same thing with invertebrate animals, and his findings were published in two major works, Système des animaux sans vertèbres (1801) and his seven volume work, Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres (1815-1822). It was in these that he first discussed his theory of evolution, and also in Philosophe Zoologique (1809). Lamarck’s ideas on evolution are complex and scattered throughout his books, but there can be no doubt that he came to believe in the gradual development through time of animals and plants evolving from pre-existing ones. The great problem in his mind was “how”. He proposed the theory that the environment acted on living things in such a way as to change their characteristics making them more adaptable to that environment, and that these newly developed characteristics were then inherited by the offspring. This theory of Lamarck’s , commonly referred to as “the inheritance of acquired characteristics,” has subsequently proven to be incorrect, and a much better explanation was to be given by Charles Darwin. As a result Lamarck’s reputation has suffered badly, and he has even been ridiculed in scientific circles. This, in our opinion, is most unjust. His contributions to general biological thought and knowledge were enormous, and he supplied the first clearly stated theory of evolution. He did unheralded in Paris in 1829, two years before Charles Darwin was to sail on the voyage of the Beagle. However, today he is not forgotten in French scientific circles, and just inside the main entrance of the museum, and dominating the whole scene is a very lovely statue of Jean Baptiste Lamarck, and this “sets the tone” for the whole institution. Below Lamarck’s name on the statue are inscribed the following words:

Fondateur de la Doctrine
de I’Evolution
Subscription Universelle

Although the senior author of this book is himself a Darwinian scholar, we nevertheless agree with the French. Lamarck was the founder of the doctrine of evolution. It is not generally known that he also played a major role in the formulation and elucidation of the cell theory.

Henri Becquerel was born in 1852 within the grounds of Le Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, where his father was a professor of physics, as was his grandfather also. Thus he was born and brought up in a scientific environment. He had the best schooling Paris could offer, receiving an engineering degree in 1877. He subsequently held high rank in the French civil service, as well as research and teaching appointments at various scientific schools and at Le Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle.
Becquerel’s life was by no means entirely devoted to research in physics, but in 1896 he made the remarkable discovery of ionizing radiation rom the element uranium, and thus opened the way for the modern science of nuclear physics. He subsequently worked closely with Pierre and Marie Curie (see elsewhere) with whom he shared the Nobel prize in 1983. The importance of Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity (a word coined by Marie Curie), can hardly be overestimated for its influence not only on physics, but also on biology and medicine, and it was here at Le Musée where the discovery took place. He died in Brittany in 1908. In a building bordering the Rue Cuvier, Becquerel had his laboratory and outside this is a plaque with the inscription:

Dans le Laboratoire
de Physique Appliquer du Muséum
Henri Becquerel
a Decouvert la Radioactivite
le 1er Mars 1896

For better or worse the world has never been the same since.

George Louis Buffon was born in Montbard (Burgundy) in 1707. He was the son of a first generation noble family, and when George was 10 the family moved to nearby Dijon. Here he studied at the College of the Jesuits, and demonstrated a real ability in mathematics. He also studied law and botany and at the age of 23 he traveled widely in Western Europe. Returning from his journeys he settled in Paris, and soon established himself in political and scientific circles, and devoted his main efforts to biology and natural history, but he also studied chemistry and geology. So successful was he that in 1739, at the early age of 32, he was appointed director of Le Jardin Royal or Le Jardin du Roi, as it was also called, and was associated with this for the rest of his life. Under Buffon’s directorship Le Jardin Royal was transformed from what was basically a herb and exotic plant garden, into one of the foremost scientific institutions in the world. Buffon wrote many articles and books, but he is remembered mainly for his Histoire Naturelle, published in 36 volumes between 1749-1767. The importance of this work can hardly be overestimated, for in it and his other ancillary works, he investigated and discussed almost every aspect of natural science. Botany, zoology, geology, paleontology, the classification of animals and plants, the origin and age of the earth all came under his scrutiny. Also of prime importance was his insistence that science must be separated from theology, and that natural mechanisms are the only valid ones in science. Thus he fully understood the origins and nature of fossils, rejected the then accepted theory of catastrophes, including the Biblical flood as a means of explaining the earth’s history, and revised the ideas of the age of the earth making it much older than the Biblical account. He also discussed the origin of life on earth, and had remarkably modern ideas on this subject. He certainly cannot be described as an evolutionist, though he did discuss the inheritance of acquired characteristics. However, we may summarize his work by saying that he provided the basic knowledge which was to be transformed by Lamarck, Cuvier and Darwin into our modern concepts of biology and geology. Buffon was a remarkably able and productive man, to whom the development of science owes a great deal. He died in Paris in 1788.

Georges Cuvier was born in 1769 in Montbeliard, Doubs. At that time the area was subject to the rule of the Duke of Wurttemberg. His family was poor, but not destitute, and Georges was considered a gifted child with an astonishing ability to learn. He showed a great interest in natural history from the earliest age.

When he was 15 years old he went to the Caroline University in Stuttgart, where he distinguished himself and made many friends. However, when he graduated in 1788, he could not find any appropriate job, and ended up as a tutor to a wealthy family near Caen in Normandy. This lasted for 6 years, during which he enormously increased his general knowledge, and particularly that of natural history. At this time he established his lifelong pattern of careful observation, but avoided theorizing. In 1795 he came to Paris, was soon on the staff of Le Musée d’Histoire Naturelle, and at the turn of the century was also made a professor at Le Collège de France. He had a house in the Jardin des Plantes and lived there until his death.
Cuvier’s life is bound up with administration and politics, as well as natural history, but it is in the latter field that his fame rests. Under his direction, the collections of the museum were vastly increased, and it became then the foremost natural history museum in the world. Over the years he studied and wrote extensively in zoology, comparative anatomy and paleontology. In his day he probably knew more than anyone else about fossil animals, and he is still considered a giant of the field. Despite this he never abandoned his faith in the Bible and creationist view of life. This brought him into sharp conflict with Lamarck and others such as Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, whom he positively ridiculed. There is some reason to believe that Cuvier’s believes in this regard were greatly influenced by political realities. Others infer that he clung closely to religion as a compensation for the tragedies he suffered. In 1804, relatively late in life he married a widow, Madam Davacelle, by whom he had four children, but they all died before him! Be this as it may, Cuvier’s scientific contributions were enormous, and he also served the very useful purpose of stimulating evolutionary thoughts by his astute and intelligent criticisms of them. He died in Paris in 1832, greatly revered by his fellow countrymen.

There are many places of great historical interest within the grounds of the museum, but we just want to mention one more in particular, and it is the magnificent library, La Bibliothèque de Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle. It is located next to the zoological galleries bordering la Rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire. This is a modern building complex, and it houses one of the best biological science collections in the world, with priceless holdings going back centuries. Application to use the library may be made at the main desk, and it is not difficult to obtain. The stacks are not open to the public, but a professional librarian will bring anything to the reading room upon request. The card index is easy to use. We can mention also that as one enters the main lobby of the building, there are on either side, larger than life murals depicting with freshness and clarity the world’s great naturalists and explorers, by the artist Raoul Dufy (1878-1953).
In conclusion, we will say that Le Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle is full of scientific history and a wonderful place to spend an hour, a day or a week!

Académie National des Sciences

Place de I’Institut
23 Quai de Conti
Paris 6e
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro – Pont Neuf.

This is also known as the Institut de France, and is the senior scientific body of the country. It is the equivalent of the Royal Society in England, or the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. It is located on the left bank opposite Le pont des Arts. The buildings in which L’Academie National des Sciences are housed are not generally open to the public, however, one may ask the permission of the concierge to look around or be shown around. As is somewhat typical of French institutions of its type, the buildings are spacious, elaborately decorated, and there are a quantity of busts and portraits of famous French scientists. An interesting scientific place steeped in history.

Académie de Médecine

16 Rue Bonaparte
Paris 6e
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro – St. Germain des Prés.

This is the senior medical institute of France, with a long history. It is on the left bank, just around the corner from La Place de I’Institut. Once again this is not really open to the public, but permission to see around may be obtained from the concierge. It is a very impressive building. Of particular interest are the three main meeting rooms, La Grand Salle for general assemblies, La Petite Salle for conferences, and La Salle Bader in which there are busts of virtually all the great French doctors throughout history. There are many more busts and portraits in the lobbies and hallways.
However, by far the most valuable asset of L’Académie de Médecine is its superb and priceless medical library. The library is scattered throughout the whole building, but there is a central reception and reading area. Permission for qualified scholars to use the library is relatively easy to obtain (unusual in France). The librarian is very cooperative and will produce almost any medical book of historical significance upon request. We asked to see the first edition (1543) of Vesalius’Anatomy, and it was produced within minutes! It is a very lovely experience to see “the home” of French medicine.

Faculté de Médecine

Université de Paris
45 Rue Saints Peres
Paris 6e
Opening hours:
Tuesdays and Fridays only, 14.30 – 17.00
No charge for admission.
Children are not admitted.
Metro – St. Germain des Pres.

This is one of several faculties of medicine of the University of Paris, but it is of special interest in that it has two superb medical museums, which are called Le Musée Orfila and Le Musée Rouviere. To see these one must be accompanied by an attendant, and permission to enter has to be obtained at the office on the 6e etage (7th floor). The museums themselves are on the 8e etage (9th floor). Some background of medical and biological knowledge is necessary to appreciate them.
Le Musée Orfila is primarily comparative anatomy, and a marvelous place to see the anatomical evolutionary development of animals. Le Musée Rouviere is devoted to human anatomy. The displays are extensive, beautifully dissected, and comprise whole cadavers, skeletons, skulls, muscles, internal organs, sense organs, etc. There are also casts of the brains of former professors! These two museums are of great interest and value to the biologically and medically oriented.

Musée Fauchard et Bibliothèque

École Dentaire de Paris
45 Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne
Paris 9e
Opening hours:
Monday – Thursday only, 9.30 – 12.00 and 14.30 – 17.00
No charge for admission.
Metro – St. Georges.

This is one of two dental schools in the University of Paris, but this one is of particular interest for its superb dental museum and library. The museum and library are named after the great French dentist Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761), who is universally acclaimed as the “Father of Dentistry.” Almost everyone has suffered from some problems of the teeth, but without the pioneer work of Pierre Fauchard the modern dentist would not have come into being, and thus all mankind owes him a debt of gratitude. Considering the importance of Pierre Fauchardin the history of dentistry, it is remarkable so little is known about his life. He was born in Brittany in 1678. We know nothing about his education, except that he indicates most of it was self education, and certainly he had no formal training in dentistry. He became the “leading dentist of Paris,” and died there in 1761 at the age of 83.
In 1728 he published his major work in two volumes. Amazingly enough the original manuscript survives! The title of the work is long, but is important because it indicates the thoroughness and comprehensiveness of the book. In English translation it reads: “The Surgeon Dentist or Treatise on the Teeth: In which it is seen the means used to keep them clean and healthy, of beautifying them, of repairing their loss and remedies for their diseases and those of the gums and for accidents which may befall the other parts in their vicinity—with observations and reflections on several special cases. A work enhanced by forty-two illustrations.” There can be no doubt that this is the first scientific work on dentistry, and from it the modern science derives. In the preface, Fauchard gives credit to his predecessors, but they are really insignificant compared to his own genius. The title of the work indicates its scope, but its novelties have become part and parcel of modern dentistry. For example, he was the first to use and describe metal bands for correcting irregularities of the teeth, and he also used antiseptic methods in filling teeth long before the germ theory of infection was put forth. The illustrations of the instruments he developed and used, are not unlike those in a dentist’s tray of today.

Pierre Fauchard’s ideas and methods spread far and wide, and they were adopted particularly rapidly in the new, less tradition societies like the United States. Indeed, the United states’ pre-eminence in modern dentistry derives from Pierre Fauchard.

The Museum and Historical Library of the Dental School are under the care (1981) of Mlle. Ghislaine de la Riviere, who is very knowledgeable and cooperative. The library is priceless and holds virtually every major work in the history of dentistry. Some of its very special books are displayed under glass. Permission to use the library is granted only to qualified scholars. The main room of the museum is surrounded on all four walls by display cases devoted to the history of dentistry. Unfortunately the displays comprise only a fraction of their collection, which is mostly stored in crates due to lack of space. However, the displays are fascinating and comprise such things as comparative dental anatomy of extinct and living animals, and a prized possession of a case of early 19th century dental instruments made for the dentist of King Charles X. This huge set of instruments is decorated in “mother of pearl,” and a real gem to see. There is of course much more, and this is a very special place for those concerned with the history of dentistry.

Bibliothèque National

58 Rue Richelieu
Paris 2e
Opening hours:
Daily, 9.00 – 18.00, but the times of opening of various departments vary
No charge for admission, but special permission is required to use it.
Metro – Bourse.

This is the national library of France, comparable to the British Library in Britain or the Library of Congress in the United States.
La Bibliothèque National has a long and complicated history, which it is not pertinent to describe in detail here. Briefly its origins go back tot he 14th century when it was founded by King Charles V in La Tour de Louvre. However, in the following century King Charles VIII and Louis XIII moved it to Le Château d’Amboise in the valley of the Loire. This was one of many royal castles in the area, and the library remained there for over a century. However in the 16th century, it was moved back to Paris and has remained there ever since. In 1537 Francis I signed a copyright law, granting the National Library a “duty copy” of every book published in France.
Over the centuries it has grown enormously, and is now one of the major libraries of the world and the depository of many major scientific works, such as all the 138 notebooks and correspondence of Louis Pasteur.
The architecture of the library is truly beautiful, and one may ask permission to see La Grand Salle and other major rooms. In addition there are Les Galeries Mansart et Mazarine, where there are often special exhibits. One cannot fail to enjoy a visit to this great library.

Musée Pasteur

Institut Pasteur
25 Rue du Docteur Roux
(Off Boulevard Pasteur)
Paris 15e
Opening hours:
Monday – Friday, 9.30 – 12.00 and 14.00 – 17.00
No charge for admission.
Guided tours are available in French only.
Metro – Pasteur.

The Pasteur Institute is now made up of many buildings devoted to biological research, but the original building with its museum, was constructed by the French government in honor of Pasteur during his lifetime (for a short biography of Pasteur see under Arbois). During its construction, there was an apartment built right into it as living quarters for Pasteur and his wife. Today this comprises the Pasteur museum, and in most of the rooms things have been left much as he and his wife would have known them.
From a scientist’s point of view, perhaps the most interesting room is “La Salle de Souvenirs Scientifiques.” Beautifully displayed here, are most of the brilliant experiments and achievements of Pasteur. In looking at these, it should be remembered that Pasteur was primarily a physicist and chemist, and applied this knowledge to biology. He was never a medical doctor, yet no one ever did more for medicine. Much of the equipment in these displays was originally used by Pasteur, and a lot of it was made with his own hands.
The rest of the museum comprises seven rooms, showing the private living quarters of Pasteur and his wife. All their original furniture is there, and many of the walls are adorned with the paintings of Pasteur himself, who was a skilled artist. Also in La Grand Salle à Manger (the dining room) there is a magnificent portrait of the Italian biologist, Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799), whom Pasteur greatly admired.
In the basement of the institute is the room in which Pasteur and his wife are buried. This is open to the public upon request at the museum desk. At the time of his death (1895) there was much pressure to have him buried in the Panthéon along with other great Frenchmen, though his family wanted him buried in his home environment at Arbois or Dôle. However, his scientific friends and colleagues pressed to have him buried in the Institut Pasteur, and their wishes finally prevailed. The crypt containing the tomb is really very beautiful, and is decorated in mosaic tiles. On the walls is a summary of his life’s work, and in translation it reads as follows:

1848 Molecular dissymmetry
1857 Fermentations
1862 Spontaneous generation
1863 Studies in wine
1865 Maladies of silkworms
1871 Studies on beer
1877 Studies of virulent maladies
1880 Attenuation of viruses-vaccines
1885 Prophylaxis of rabies

On the ceiling at the four corners are the words foi (faith), esperance (hope), Charité (charity), science (science), and these well express the criteria by which Pasteur lived his life.
Finally in the Institut Pasteur is the very impressive main library, which Pasteur himself used. It is particularly nice to see here that many of Pasteur’s collaborators, including Charles Chamberland (1851-1908) and Emile Roux (1853-1933), are not forgotten in the great achievements of their master.
All in all a visit to the Institut Pasteur is a very interesting education and moving experience. All done in excellent taste, and superbly kept and managed.

Le Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers

292 Rue Saint-Martin
Paris 3e
Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday, 14.00 – 17.30
Saturdays, 9.00 – 16.30
Sundays, 14.00 – 17.30; closed Mondays.
No charge for admission.
Metro – Reaumur-Sebastopol.

This is France’s National Museum of arts and technology. Its origins go back to the revolution in 1794, when it was founded by public order of “The Convention.” It preserves and displays the historical development of the graphic arts, photography, electricity and electronics, industrial machines, physical instruments, astronomy, etc. It is not primarily concerned with biology, but in this regard it has a fine display of the apparatus and instruments belong to Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794). Although a chemist by profession, Lavoisier’s contribution to biology cannot be overestimated, mainly from his discovery of the true nature of combustion, and his application of chemistry to biology. With the publication of his Traite Elementaire de Chimie in 1789, modern chemistry is said to have begun, and its influence on modern biology was not long delayed.
Included in the Lavoisier collection at the museum are his desk, balances, thermometers, calorimeters, etc. These alone are worth a visit, but there is much more to delight anyone interested in the history of science and technology.

Le Hôtel Dieu

Place du Parvis
Ile de la Cite
Paris 4e
Opening hours:
Normal business hours.
No charge for admission.
Metro-Le Cité.

The Hôtel Dieu is on the main island (Ile de la Cité) in the Seine riber, and borders the same square (Place du Parvis) as Notre Dame Cathedral.
This is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe, having been founded in 660 by St. Landry, The Bishop of Paris. It has been destroyed and rebuilt many times since then, but the original site was just across the square where the statue of Charlemagne now stands. Today it is a modern and active hospital, but visitors are welcome to walk in the central courtyard, around the porticos, where there are large murals and photographs depicting the development and important events in the history of medicine and the hospital.

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Boulevard Ménilmontant
Paris 20e
Opening hours:
Daily, 9.00 – dusk.
No charge for admission.
Le Bureau de Conservation near the entrance, will locate the Metro – Pere-Lachaise.

It is fitting that this section on Paris should end with its famous cementery Père-Lachaise. It is a beautiful cemetery and a pleasure to walk in, but what is so remarkable about it is the number of very famous people, including many scientists, who are buried there. A few of these are Rossini, Colette, Heloise and Abèlard, Frédéric Chopin, Champpollion, Daumier, Moliére, Gay-Lussac, Beaumarchais, Marshal Ney, Sarah Bernhardt, Balzac, Delacrois, Bizet, Proust, Isidora Duncan, Oscar Wilde, and to the great interest of all physiologists and medical doctors, Claude Bernard (see under St. Julien-en-Beaujolais). The location of Claude Bernard’s grave is Division 20, Line 8, number 18, but even then it takes a little effort to find it. However, it is worth it just to see the resting place of this great man to whom we owe so much. It is a simple grave, and on the tombstone are carved the following words – in translation:

Claude Bernard
Member of the Institute
Academy of Sciences and French Academy
Professor at the College of France
and at the Natural History Museum
Honorary Professor at the Faculty of Sciences
Member of the Academy of Medicine
President of the Society of Biology
Former Senator
Commander of the Legion of Honor
Born at St. Julien (Rhône) 11th July 1813
Died in Paris 10th February 1878.


Location – 440 kilometers south of Paris.
Train – Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Lyon, and then by bus or taxi to St. Julien-en-
Road – Take the A6 (la Route du Sud) towards Lyon. About 30 kilometers north of Lyon turn off to Villefrance-sur-Saone. Then take the D35 (la Route du Beaujolais) to the west and to Saint Julien sur/sous Montmelas – also called St. Julien-en-Beaujolais.

St. Julien-en-Beaujolais, Rhône, is a small village in the heart of the Beaujolais wine area, but is also noted for the fact that it was here in 1813 that Claude Bernard (see also under Paris) was born. Today there is a very fine museum here of recent origin, kept in his honor.

Le Musée Claude Bernard

Route D76
St. Julien-en-Beaujolais
Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00 – 12.00 and 14.00 – 18.00.
Closed Mondays and for the month of March.
Small charge for admission.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878), is universally regarded as the founder of experimental physiology, a method of research which, since his time has given rise to untold insights and discoveries about living phenomena. He was the son of poor vineyard workers in Beaujolais, and received a very sparse education, with no science at all, but he loved all natural things, and had an inquiring mind. AS a young man he worked under an apothecary, but soon turned his talents to the theater, writing comedies. These were successful enough, that he was soon in Paris, but there he was dissuaded from pursuing a literary career. Instead he studied medicine, and for a time interned at the Hôtel Dieu (see under Paris) under the most famous physician of the day, Francois Magendie. In 1841, at the age of 28, he followed Magendie to the Collège de France (see under Paris). Magendie was an experimenter, and from him Claude Bernard learned the concepts and techniques which he was to put to such great use.
In the meantime he married in haste, and it is said for money, the daughter of a Parisian physician, Fanny Martin. This unfortunately turned out to be a classic case of the lines by William Congrene (1670-1729) “Marry’d in haste, we repent at leisure,” for he had a miserable conjugal life.
In 1852, Magendie retired, and Claude Bernard succeeded to his chair at the Collège de France, and for the next twenty years he made one brilliant discovery after the next, making his name a legend. It has often been said, that had Nobel prizes been awarded in Claude Bernard’s day, that he would have won several. His accomplishments and discoveries include:

1. The digestive function of the pancreas.
2. The glycogenic and other functions of the liver.
3. The discovery of the vasoconstrictor and vasodilator nerves and their
mechanisms of functioning.
4. The concept of the “milieu interieur” (internal environment), now referred
to as homeostasis.
5. His studies on the action of drugs, particularly curare, and their application
to medicine.
6. The functions of bile.
7. Nerve innovation of the vocal chords, and the functions of the cranial
8. The inhibitory action of the vagus nerve on the heart.
9. The production of experimental diabetes. In fact, he only just missed
discovering the cause of diabetes.

However, more than all this was his establishment of experimental physiology as a valuable tool to the understanding of how living things work. As he himself put it “La source unique de nos connaissances est l” experimentation” (Experimentation is a unique source of knowledge). His great work “Introduction à l’Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale” published in 1865 is one of the milestones in physiology and medicine.

Throughout his life, whenever his duties in Paris would permit, Claude Bernard returned to his home in St. Julien-en-Beaujolais. In due course he brought the manor house and vineyards where his parents had worked, and he was himself an avid viticulturist. His later years were plagued by illness, but were happier in the sense that he was separated from his wife. He died in Paris in 1878 and was accorded a state funeral, hitherto reserved for famous politicians and generals.

Le Musée Claude Bernard (owned and operated by La Fondation Merieux de Lyon) is in the house which he bought and so often returned to. It is located just in front of the house where he was born “La Maison Natale”, and there is a plaque on this commemorating the event. All the rooms on the ground and 1e etage (second floor) of the museum are devoted to the life history and achievements of Claude Bernard. It consists of various exhibits of his famous laboratory experiments, his instruments, kymographs, balances, documents, etc., his M.D. thesis, and all his published works in their original editions. Much of the furniture in the rooms is original. There are also many portraits, busts and photographs and events from his private life. Copies of his theatrical works, such as “La Rose du Rhône” and others are there, also an autographed copy of Emile Zola’s famous novel “Le Docteur Pascal,” which was based on the life of Claude Bernard. There are many other things to see there, and in our opinion it is “a gem.”
The museum house, built of soft yellow stone, is set in beautiful countryside, and surrounded by the same vineyards which Claude Bernard cultivated.

This is a pleasant place to close our dialogue on the biological and medical history of France. However, before leaving the Beaujolais area, we would like to suggest that you drive around it on “La Route des Beaujolais Villages”, and perhaps end up with a meal at Le Restaurant du Beaujolais (closed Tuesdays) in the little village of Flaceret, just 5 kilometers north of St. Julien-En-Beaujolais. It is a Guide Michelin one star restaurant, and a fitting place to celebrate the life of Claude Bernard and the blessings we owe to him.