This is an awesome place to visit. It’s not far from the Notre Dame so should fit into any adventurous tourist’s schedule. Like in my last Hidden Treasures post about Belleville Park, this isn’t a place that is difficult to find, it’s just a place that not enough people know about. Paris’ very own Roman arena.
Once home to legendary Roman theatre and savage gladiatorial battles, the Arenes de Lutece (the Lutetia Arenas) were constructed in the 1st Century AD and were the place to be seen for the Roman population of the city then known as Lutetia.
Different sources claim different things about the scale of the seated terraces but all are around the 15,000-20,000 mark. The lower seats were reserved for the rich upper classes while peasant spectators took in a view from the higher levels.
When the Roman empire fell, the arena was taken apart and eventually lost completely in the 11th Century.
The illustations below depict what it looked like before its closure and destruction.
The ruins were rediscovered at the end of the 19th Century when works began to build a new road and tramway through the 5th arrondissement. At first, the city council planned to simply build over the arena again and it was almost lost forever. However, support came from a literary corner – writer Victor Hugo and a group of historian campaigners pleaded with the city and persuaded them to preserve the remains for future generations. Although some of the original footprint had already been lost to the construction of Rue Monge, the remaining two thirds were excavated and restored as much as possible.
Today the arenas are free to visit and open as a city park. You can find out more about it on the tourism website here. So if you’re interested in Roman history or simply want to imagine man-eating lions while scoffing your lunchtime baguette, this is a fascinating spot.
If you want to visit, the nearest metro stations are Jussieu, Cardinal Lemoine and Place Monge. It is about a 15 minute walk from the Notre Dame Cathedral.