The Arènes de Lutèce (former name of Paris) are classified as Historic Monuments and can be visited free of charge, every day.
Skeletons, pottery, and the mythical ancient amphitheater were unearthed
These arenas, located in the Latin Quarter and built between the 1st and the end of the 2nd century, could contain around 15,000 people. Originally, their dimensions were 132 meters long and 100 meters wide. The visitor can still see the location of the actors’ dressing room, the stage platform and lapidary elements. Buried by time under piles of earth, the Arènes de Lutèce were until the 19th century an uncertain image, of which nothing seemed to remain. Only writings dating from 1180 noted its existence, around 1310, and the “clos des Arènes” vineyard also indicated its presence, around 1285. It was by drilling rue Monge (between 1860 and 1869) that this incredible discovery was made in 1870. Skeletons, pottery, bas-reliefs and especially the mythical ancient amphitheater were unearthed, with enthusiasm general. All of Paris then mobilized to save these extraordinary ruins. But popular pressure failed to convince Napoleon III, who was not ready to spend the sum necessary at the time to restore them.
Parisians were passionate about this discovery
The Arenas were neither more nor less covered again; a few days to redo the work that had taken centuries to accomplish. The Compagnie Générale des Omnibus, which owned the land, recovered its property and settled peacefully in its occupation until 1883…It was then that the construction of a new street revived the debate. This time Victor Hugo and Victor Duruy persisted, and, mentalities having evolved, the government miraculously accepted the idea of updating the Arena ! The new excavations brought up other objects and this time a 2.10m skeleton ! Parisians were passionate about this discovery and a certain Doctor Capitan financed its long-awaited restoration in 1917-1918.
half an amphitheater
The Arènes de Lutèce is the only building, from the Roman era, with the thermal baths of Cluny which is so well preserved in the capital. Contrary to popular belief, it is not exactly an amphitheater, but half an amphitheater. From its 15,000 seats (Paris then only had 20,000 inhabitants!) spectators could contemplate a magnificent panorama of the Bièvre and the Seine. Sitting on the upper stands, slaves could attend circus shows (fights of wild beasts, gladiators and perhaps Christians) or plays (tragedies of Aristophanes, Plautus, etc.), alongside the poor and women, sheltered in summer by a linen veil (velarium), which protected them from the heat, while the dignitaries occupied the lower stands.But why does time end up forgetting its arenas? The Barbarians were then raging throughout Europe and they swept over Lutetia around 285, forcing the inhabitants of the young city to protect themselves. They began to build an enclosure which encircled the Île de la Cité, using the stones already cut from the arenas. In ruins, they were transformed into a necropolis, then little by little abandoned and erased from memories.But today they have rediscovered their original vocation and are trying to revive a past that has been forgotten for too long.
Arènes de Lutèce
4 rue des Arènes