Cool Stuff in Paris. By Manning Leonard Krull.

Les Arènes de Lutèce — an ancient Roman arena hidden in the 5th arrondissement

Les Arènes de Lutèce | 47, Rue Monge, 75005 Paris (Map) | Métro: Cardinal Lemoine

The Arènes de Lutèce is one of my top ten things I love to visit in Paris! (Note to self: I need to write a top ten.) In my opinion this place is one of the most fascinating things around, and most Parisians have never even heard of it. It's a real-ass Roman arena dating from the first century, hidden right in the fifth arrondissement! The arena is semi-concealed by a few large apartment buildings situated around it, and you can wander the neighborhood for hours and never even notice it's there; I certainly did! When I first read about the place, I mentally pictured this neighborhood that I'd walked a few times over the years, and couldn't imagine there was a whole (small, but still) Roman arena hiding there.

Once you know the Arènes de Lutèce is there, finding it isn't too tricky. The place nowadays is a sort of park, and there are actually three different entrances. The easiest one to find if you're coming by Métro is on Rue Monge. Take line 10 to the station called Cardinal Lemoine, and when you exit you'll be at an intersection. Locate Rue Monge and walk in the direction that's going uphill. Keep going until you find the entrance on your left at number 47, Rue Monge. It doesn't look like a typical entrance to a park; in fact, it looks more like the entrance to a courtyard of an apartment building, like you'll see all over Paris. The main difference is the presence of a big cement gladiator helmet perched over the doorway. That's the place!

Another helpful landmark is one of those "Histoire de Paris" signs next to the entrance.

Here's my clumsy translation of the sign, which gives some neat history about the place...

"This amphitheater of simple stone brickwork was erected around the end of the first century AD. ... Destroyed during the barbarian invasions of the third century, its materials were reused by the Gallo-Romans, who were taking refuge on the Île de la Cité [that's the small island on the Seine in central Paris, where Notre Dame is]. ... Its exact location remained unknown until 1858. It was rediscovered at the opening of the Rue [street] Monge in 1869, on land acquired by the General Omnibus Company for housing its vehicles and stables. The site of the arena was uncovered by the demolition work at that time.

"Public opinion, moved by the news, called for the arena's renovation. But it wasn't until 1917 that it was restored to its current state."

I've been to the Arènes probably a dozen times over the years, and every time it's been almost empty; just a few kids playing soccer and a few old guys sitting on the bleachers. Like I mentioned, most Parisians don't know about the place — seriously, ask a few! — and it's certainly not touristy at all. So it's a really great opportunity to find a quiet corner and sit and think and just be alone with history for a few minutes. It's absolutely incredible for me to be in this place and know that ancient Parisians hung out here for sports, shows, etc, almost two millenia ago. The quiet, and solitude, and history of the place have made it one of my favorite spots in Paris.

Here are a few more pictures...


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