College of the Four Nations (College des Quatre-Nations)

A magnificent building with a dome that is visible from far away is located on the left bank of the River Seine directly opposite the Cour Carée of the Louvre (the two buildings are currently connected by the pedestrian bridge Pont des Arts) in the Saint-Germain Quarter of Paris. Andrey Matveev, a diplomat under Peter I, noted that the building had an “excellent” location and a “lively” appearance.

The College was built through a bequest by the Cardinal Mazarin and using his funds (2 million francs) to the design of architect Louis Le Vau on the site of the previously famous Nesle’s Tower (Tour de Nesle) in 1665-1683. The central building with a column portico, a pediment and a dome bearing the Mazarin coat of arms on the drum was originally a church where the Tomb of Cardinal Mazarin (by Antoine Coysevox, 1689) was installed. The eye-catching arcuate wings inspired by the Roman Baroque of the 17th century and two symmetrically placed pavilions topped with a high roof housed a college which was intended for training and boarding of 60 students from the nobility coming from the provinces recently added to France (Alsace, Flanders, Pignerol, Franche-Comté, and Roussillon).  The College gained the Cardinal’s rich library which then numbered about 40 thousand books.  The building had two courtyards, with the smaller one leading to the church and the larger one belonging to the instructional building.

The College was opened in 1689. The Library opened in 1689 and was open to the public on Mondays and Thursdays. The number of students of the College was reduced to 30 persons contrary to Mazarin’s will. As reported by Germain Briсe in his Description of Paris (1717), “an essential advantage of the College over others is that it has a professor of mathematics. Professor Varignon, who is very skilled in mathematical sciences, is teaching here with much success”. Other disciplines taught included dancing, fencing, equitation and belles-lettres. The College was under the jurisdiction of the Sorbonne.

Peter I visited the College of the Four Nations on June 3/14, 1717. He viewed the church and the library, asked the hosts about the setup of the educational facility and funds allocated to run it. The explanations were given by the above mentioned Pierre Varignon. Covering the Tsar’s visit to the College, the Le Nouveau Mercure newspaper reported that he had already established similar educational institutions in Moscow and St. Petersburg (apparently referring to the Navigation School and the Naval Academy) and was planning to open new ones.

The College of the Four Nations existed until 1791.

Since 1805 and to this day, the building has been housing the Institute de France (Institute of France) established by Napoleon I by grouping five existing academies (the French Academy, the Academy of Inscriptions, the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Fine Arts, and the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences). The Mazarin Library which keeps half a million manuscripts and publications has also survived on its original site.

On October 5, 2017, a bust of Peter the Great who was a member of the French Academy was installed in the building.


College of the Four Nations (College des Quatre-Nations)


23, quai de Conti, 75006, Paris, France