The ancient Roman arena on this site was destroyed by the Barbarians in the year 280. The foundations were rediscovered during various building projects in the nineteenth century and were (partly) preserved on the initiative of a committee led by the author Victor Hugo (1802–1885).
The current arena is a not-very-authentic reconstruction from the early twentieth century. It is now used mainly for playing football and boules, but also occasionally for performances of the “Grand Theater of Paris” (third photo) involving 100 actors, singers and dancers, mainly amateurs.
Unfortunately I had to leave Paris just a few days before the performances in June 2012, so I didn’t see the production in person but just watched a few snippets on YouTube. From what I saw, it looks more like a religious activity than a theater production, but perhaps it is meant to be both.
The plan is to show the history of theater in Paris from the tenth to the twenty-first centuries. Act I, in June 2012, covered the Middle Ages from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, specifically the years 960 to 1548.
Act II, scheduled for 2013, will deal with the 17th century. Act III, in 2014, will be about the 18th and 19th centuries. Act IV, in 2015, will be about the 20th century. And Act V, in 2016, will be about the 21st century.
Whatever the intention of all this is, it should at least serve to bring a bit of life into the arena, which often looks empty and neglected.
Next review from July 2012: Jussieu Campus
Along with the thermal baths of Cluny the "Arenes de Lutece" are the only visible signs of the Romans passing in Paris. Built in the 1st century A.D. it was made to contain around 15000 people. The arena was destroyed in the IIIrd century and rebuilt around 300 years later. Whilst there have been citations of the arena during the centuries it seems to have been lost from view around1700 and only rediscovered in 1860/69 after rue Monge was built. Work for a new bus depot uncovered even more and it took a letter from Victor Hugo, in 1883, to the President of the city council, to alert the authorities of the possible destruction of the cities heritage. Work was stopped and the council bought the land, shortly after classing it as a historic monument. Unfortunately the buidings on rue Monge had already destroyed a part of the arena. Today there is a lovely small garden attached to the arena dedicated in the name of, Square René-Capitan, the anthropologist who did a lot of work here in the early 20th century,and who actually discovered a skeleton under all the earth, 2m10 tall!!!! Arena and garden open every day and entrance is free. It is no longer possible to enter the arena by rue Monge, only entrance is by the rue de Navarre and the garden or rue des Arenes.
UPDATE at 11.01.2010 - The entrance at no. 49 rue Monge has been re-opened following conservation work.(see photo below)
Metros Monge, Jussieu and Cardinal-Lemoine are the closest.
Just after the rue du Cardinal-Lemoine takes off to the NW from the pl,. a short stree looking like a dead end alley leads off it to the right (rue Rollin). At its end is a flight of steps with a fountain of sorts below. The stairs lead to an approach to the rue Monge. (To the right is a Metro entrance). Across Monge on the left (in the rue Lavarre) is the are containing Les Arenes de Lutece with an entrance about 50 m along it. If you consult a map you may find other important lesser sites nearby such as the Jardin des Plantes.
The Arena was built about 100AD and served both as a theater and arena. It held 13,000. It was pillaged , appropriated and forgotten until 1869, rediscovered during a building boom. After 50 years of argument , it was decided to make a park to "protect "it (a la francais). It serves as a playground, trysting place and neighborhood open space. (Parts of it are under the surrounding buildings, never to be seen).
Hidden behind the buildings and green of the surrounding park you will find the Arènes de Lutèce. The thermal baths of Cluny and this amphitheatre, Arènes de Lutèce (Lutetia), are the gallo-roman remains in the area of Quartier Latin.
The amphitheatre is a nice and quiet place to visit after a walk in the city. The first time I visited early morning there was nobody around. Other times some kids are playing or some people are sitting at the benches. During my last visit in august 2005 they were making a movie of a musicien, playing in the arena. A pity I couldn't walk around to take pictures, but it was nice to relax and sit down and listen for a while.
The amphitheater is built in the first century AD. The amphitheatre, considered as biggest one ever built by the Romans, could house 15.000 - 17.000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial combats. The arena was surrounded by a wall of a podium of 2.5M high. The 41M long stage gave also the possibility to perform theatrical productions. Nine niches were constructed for improving the acoustics. Some of the five holes under the tribune supposed to be animal cages, which could be opened direct into the arena.
The Arènes are open from 8:30 to 5pm during the winter, and from 8:30 to 10pm during the summer.
Walking in past the lush greenery of the park area it's hard to fathom this was once a Roman arena but walking up the old limestone steps to the stone arena seated area you can feel where each step has been worn down by many, many feet.
Lutece is in reference to the early Roman name for Paris – Lutetia. In these Roman ruins you can watch the men play boules and watch the kids play soccer (football).
While relaxing there smoking and writing in my journal I overheard French teens sing French rap – French rap is just TOO funny, I can't even describe it. I glanced up to watch the kids rapping, one of the girls caught my eye & she got embarrassed & quit.
8am-5:30 pm (Winter)
Photos: Feb 2006
The 2000 year old Roman theatre was rediscovered in 1869. Probably the oldest building in Paris. On rue Monge, close by to rue Mouffetard. The entrance is a non descript archway that I walked right by and I was looking for it. Once you enter the rock benches are in place. Even though the locals play soccer and boule, you can imagine the gladiators that once laid waste on one another.
I briefly mentioned the Roman Arena in my "walking around" tip, but I feel a need to write about it too. Les Arènes de Lutece is almost the sole remnant of the Roman era in "France" and it's well worth a visit. When I was there I was almost alone and sat down and watched the magnificent Architechture and read the signs that talked of its history. Unfortunately all signs are in french, but it's still a nice place to go even if you DON'T know french.
Discretely situated in the 5th arrondissement, these Roman ruins are easy to miss. They're a great place to come if you're looking for a bit of greenery and a breath of fresh air in a friendly neighborhood setting. The ruins were first unearthed in 1869, and have since been excavated and landscaped. On weekends, expect to find families and loads of children running around. Or bring a book and a sandwich on a sunny weekday, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
nearest train: métro: Monge
open hours: 8am-sunset daily
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