Fodor's Expert Review Institut de France
The Institut de France is one of the country's most revered cultural institutions, and its golden dome is one of the Rive Gauche's most impressive landmarks. The site was once punctuated by the Tour de Nesle (forming part of Philippe-Auguste's medieval fortification wall, the tower had many royal occupants—including Henry V of England). Then, in 1661, wealthy Cardinal Mazarin willed 2 million French livres (pounds) for the construction of a college here. It's also home to the Académie Française: the protectors of the French language. The edicts issued by this esoteric group of 40 perpétuel (lifelong) members are happily ignored by the French public. The interior is off-limits to visitors.