Arènes de Lutece

Arènes de Lutece (75)

Nearly all the buildings and monuments in Paris date from the Middle Ages and after. That is why it is surprising to find earlier constructions, such as the thermal baths of the Museum of the Middle Ages or the Arènes de Lutèce, a Roman circus dating from the 2nd century.

There were 35 tiers to accommodate as many as 15,000 spectators who enjoyed theatrical performances and other spectacles such as gladiator tournaments.

The Romans used the side currently known as the Santa Geneviève Mountain to build the stone seats. The stage was situated to the east, in order to make full use of the last moments of daylight.

Today very few of the original stones remain of the Roman complex. The theatre was exposed to erosion and gradually deteriorated over the centuries since it was used to dump rubbish. Moreover, the Arènes de Lutèce provided accessible stone to build the walls of the Île de la Cité without having to go to the quarries. 

In the 19th century, the old Roman circus had become practically a legend, was totally buried and very few Parisians believed that it even existed in reality. But Baron Haussmann, in his thorough restructuring of Paris, had discovered the structure of the circus when enlarging Rue Monge. That was in 1869.

But Haussmann was not at all impressed by the discovery and did not let it stop him in his plans. Thus he ordered two-thirds of the circus to be excavated and knocked down so that the land could be used as a bus station.

In 1883, the writer Victor Hugo headed a campaign to save the few surviving ruins. Finally the archaeological dig was restored in 1917 to return it to its original appearance. Today you can see the circus just as it was, although only one third of it comes from what was really the Roman era.

And today, after so many centuries, this space can once more be enjoyed.

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