Did you know that tucked away in the Latin Quarter is a Roman arena built in the first century that was once the site of gladiator combats? Nowadays the gladiators have been replaced by petanque players and footballers, but the arena is still clearly visible.
In it’s heyday it could hold 17,000 spectators, and was home to not only gladiators, but theatre and lion combats (it’s believed the cages under the seating area may have been to house the lions). Slaves, the poor and women sat at the top, Roman men sat on the best seats around the arena. It was one of the longest amphitheaters in Europe, but when Paris was sacked by the Barbarians in 290 AD most of the stone was taken away to be used elsewhere to defend the city, and the arena was eventually filled in and forgotten, for over 17 centuries.
It was rediscovered during works to build the rue Monge in 1860, Victor Hugo wrote a letter to the local council defending it from proposed destruction, but they were not restored until 1917. What you can see nowadays is mainly renovation, but it remains a fascinating place, almost unknown, apart from a few locals, and a tranquil place to sit and reflect on 20 centuries of Parisian history.
- Arenes de Lutece, 49 rue Monge, 75005 Paris. metro: Cardinal Lemoine or Jussieu