Long before Paris was the Paris of Kings and Queens, Haussmann buildings and the Eiffel Tower, it was a small settlement called Lutetia, home to the Gallo-Romans, more than two thousand years ago...
I was so excited to discover that one of the two remaining remnants in Paris of the Roman period is in my neighborhood - Les Arènes de Lutèce (French for Lutetia), a partially reconstructed Gallo-Roman amphitheater originally built around the first century AD. It showcased wild animals, gladiatorial combat and theatrical performances until 280 AD, when it was sacked by the barbarian invasion, then buried for centuries until its foundation was rediscovered in the 1860's during the road construction of Rue Monge. A committee led by writer Victor Hugo pleaded for the site's preservation, whereupon more of the arena was excavated and restored over subsequent years.
Historians have estimated the amphitheater once held roughly 16,000-18,000 people. Some of the lower portions of the tiered seating was restored, the platform and niches from the stage settings are still visible, as well as cages where animals were kept before being let out onto the arena.
My son and I watched a burlesque show at Les Arènes de Lutèce recently, and I couldn't get over the haunting sense of the past... sitting in the ancient space of gladiators and wild tigers, of shouting spectators and stoic Roman statesmen. At once disquieting and extraordinary...
To see a video and animation of what the amphitheater looked like in its prime and where it stood in yesterday's Paris, visit: Lutece 3D: Voyage au Paris antique.
Les Arènes de Lutèce
Address: 47 Rue Monge, 75005 Paris (Latin Quarter)
Hours: Open daily - Summer 9am-9:30pm, Winter 8am-5:30pm
"It is not possible that Paris, the city of the future,
should renounce the living proof that it was a city of the past." - Victor Hugo