In the late seventeenth century, this area formed to forecourt to the abbatial palace—which is still visible at the beginning of the street. The buildings lining the square were all outbuildings. The coach houses for the carriages and the horses were on the ground floor, while the servants quarters were on the upper floors, which explains why these structures were not particularly well built.
The Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey
The first Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey was constructed under Childebert I, son of Clovis, in the sixth century. It burnt down and was pillaged during the Norman invasions in the ninth century. A new monastery was built in the eleventh century, along with a new church, although all that remains today is the bell tower-keep and its buttresses. Pierre de Montreuil enlarged the complex in the thirteenth century by adding a refectory, cloisters, and the Chapel to the Virgin, parallel to the Rue de l’Abbaye.
Ramparts surrounded the monastic city in the fourteenth century. The perimeter followed Rue Cardinale, Rue Jacob, Rue Saint-Benoit and extended to the south slightly beyond the current Boulevard Saint-Germain.
The abbatial palace was constructed in 1586 by Cardinal Charles I de Bourbon, who was King Henri IV’s uncle. His construction of brick and dressed stone was one of the first of its kind in Paris and would be often imitated. The palace was restored and enlarged in 1691 by Cardinal Egon de Furstenberg.
The Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey was, at the time, one of the most beautiful monastic complexes of the Middle Ages. It remained an exceptional intellectual center through the eighteenth century. Many scholars worked in the library, which has a particularly rich collection. The Revolution marked the end of the community, and the abbey was transformed into a gunpowder warehouse. An immense explosion during the night of August 19, 1794, destroyed most of the monastic buildings.