Did you know that a Roman amphitheatre still stands in Paris from the time of Gaul? It’s true. This amphitheatre is called the Arènes de Lutèce, and it is one of my favourite hidden gems of the 5th arrondissement of Paris. To understand where this site came from, we have to journey back over 2,000 years to the time of the Romans.
The Roman occupation of Paris began in 52 BCE, and Paris would ultimately go on to become the capital city of the Western portion of Roman occupied Gaul in the 4th century. Although Roman presence in the area later declined with the arrival of the invading Franks, Roman remains can still be seen throughout Paris. Perhaps the most famous is the Roman baths at the Musée de Cluny, but my personal preference is the Arènes de Lutèce.
In my opinion, what is most impressive about this site is its age. Built in the 1st century AD, the Arènes de Lutèce could hold up to 15,000 people who would come to watch the gladiators in combat. It was later used as a theatre and as a cemetery, before being filled in during the construction of the Philippe Auguste wall in the 12th century. The amphitheatre was later rediscovered in the 19th century and restored under the stewardship of famed French writer Victor Hugo. Today it is free to visit, and you will often find locals playing various games on its grounds.
So why the name Lutèce? Well, this dates back to the Roman occupation, when Paris was known as Lutetia, or Lutèce in French. This name was bestowed upon the city by Julius Caesar himself, and today, many restaurants, bars, bistros, and roads still bear this Roman name. As one of the largest remains of the Romans’ time in Paris, what better name for this incredible site?
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The Arènes de Lutèce can be found in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, just off of Rue Monge.
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Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.