Pasteur Institute, Paris

Located in Rue du Dr Roux, the Pasteur Institute has a mystical presence that brings history, science and art into one. Founded in 1887 by the great Louis Pasteur, the Institute was a product of the victory against rabies, an untreatable disease at the time which killed millions.

Louis Pasteur is considered to be the ‘father’ of microbiology and one of France’s greatest scientists. He dedicated his life to the research of infectious diseases, driven by the pain caused by the death of three of his children to typhoid. Pasteur made major breakthroughs in the field of microbiology. One of his greatest discoveries was the process of pasteurisation, which was named after him. Pasteur realised that by heating milk to a certain temperature, bacterial contamination could be prevented. He also devised a vaccine for anthrax in 1881 after research on chicken cholera.

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Painting of Pasteur in his laboratory by Albert Edelfelt in 1885. From  http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/april-20-1862-louis-pasteur-and-claude-bernard-begin-tests-of-pasteurization

However, the turning point that led to the creation of the Pasteur Institute was the development of the rabies vaccine in 1885. Cholera was an untreatable and common disease at the time, characterised by a slow and painful death. Pasteur had done experiments on dogs but was afraid of testing the vaccine in humans. But he finally tested his vaccine on Joseph Meister, a young boy who was dying from rabies. The boy survived and his vaccine became a major breakthrough, people across the whole of France and parts of Europe travelled to Pasteur’s laboratory to be inoculated against Rabies. However, it was impossible for Pasteur to meet up this demand, so he appealed for international funds and set up a charitable body. The funds arrived and the Pasteur Institute was founded on the 4th of June, 1887. Initially the Institute acted as a rabies vaccination centre but quickly started working on all kinds of infectious diseases.

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Outside view of the majestic Pasteur Institute. From http://www.pasteur.fr/en/institut-pasteur/pasteur-museum

The Pasteur Institute didn’t close after the death of Pasteur in 1895, instead it kept loyal to Pasteur’s ideals and remains to this day as a non-profitable foundation where scientific research in the field of microbiology continues. Most people don’t expect to find high tech laboratories inside what appears from the outside as a 19th century majestic mansion. Science lovers will be fascinated to hear that the HIV virus was isolated in those labs 30 years ago. However, the Pasteur Institute has much more than just scientists walking around in their lab coats. Within the Institute there is a fantastical museum in commemoration to Louis Pasteur. The contrast of having a beautifully conserved museum surrounded by laboratories of the 21st century is incompressible, yet amazing.

The museum was developed in the same apartment where Pasteur lived the last years of his life. Welcome to the Pasteur dimension, a second floor apartment that has been extremely well preserved, with its original decorations and furniture. Explore the museum and feel free to travel back in time to the late 19th century. Put yourself in Pasteur’s position and pay a visit to the study room, where the genius spent hours figuring out new solutions. If you get hungry, pay a visit to the dining room and fill your tummy with thoughts. The laundry room has been modified into a place with a science aura, filled with all sorts of medical equipment used by Pasteur. Get hypnotised with the tools that helped saved millions of lives.

Prepare to go down to what used to be an ordinary cellar and now you will be jaw-dropped to discover it is a stunning crypt. This room is awe-inspiring, with stunning drawings in the ceiling depicting the discoveries Pasteur made in his lifetime. With so much beauty everywhere you look round, some may feel they are visiting a miniature version of the Vatican. Then you have the tomb where Pasteur is buried in the middle of the Byzantine styled crypt. Above the tomb there is a beautiful mosaic of four angels, emphasising Pasteur’s qualities and traits: faith, hope, science and charity. Situated at the back of the crypt is the grave of Pasteur’s wife Marie, who died 15 years after him. Compared to the magnificent tombstone where Pasteur is buried, Marie’s tomb is fairly simple and has an epitaph with the following words: “companion of the human and the divine“. Reflecting on these words and looking at the beautiful mosaics above your head gives a sense that Pasteur is a man beyond science, it feels as if he was a saint. When the Nazis invaded Paris in WW2, the Pasteur Institute was left untouched, most likely due to the admiration and respect it commanded. It appears as if the Institute has some divine force watching over it.

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Pasteur’s tombstone is located in the middle of a beautiful Byzantine styled crypt. From http://www.unjourdeplusaparis.com/category/paris-culture/musees

If you are travelling to Paris and have a passion for art, science or history, the Pasteur Institute is something which can’t be missed. Visit the museum and revive the memories of Louis Pasteur: a man who not only was a great scientist, but a good person who saved countless lives.

Further information:

http://www.pasteur.fr/en/institut-pasteur/history/story-institut-pasteur

http://www.travelfranceonline.com/pasteur-museum-crypt-institute-paris/

https://www.pasteur.fr/en/institut-pasteur

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