May 8, 2021

The Arènes de Lutèce: A Vestige of Ancient History in the Center of Paris

Arènes de LutèceIf you don’t look closely when you walk past 49 rue Monge, you might not notice anything out of the ordinary. But half-hidden among hotels and restaurants on the busy street in Paris’ 5th arrondissement lie ruins from another Paris. The Arènes de Lutèce are the remains of a Gallo-Roman site built between the first century and the end of the second century. The ancient arenas could hold up to 15,000 people and were used to present theatrical shows and gladiator combats. Along with the Thermes de Cluny, the Gallo-Roman thermal baths that are now part of the Musée de Cluny, the Arènes de Lutèce are the only remaining vestiges of the Gallo-Roman period in Paris.

The Arènes de Lutèce: A Vestige of Ancient History in the Center of Paris

The site takes its name from Lutetia (Lutèce in French), the Gallo-Roman city that preceded present-day Paris. For years, the exact location of the Arènes de Lutèce were unknown. An archaeologist rediscovered the arenas at the end of the 1850s during the building of Rue Monge, when there were plans to build a tramway on the site. A group of preservationists (including the writer Victor Hugo) fought to save the site and as a result, the government established it as a public square in 1896.  Today, the Arènes de Lutèce has become a public park that local residence use for reading, sports and games such as the popular French game pétanque. The Arènes de Lutèce are free to visit. While not much remains from the original arenas, it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re visiting the nearby Museum of Natural History or the Institut du Monde Arabe.

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