Arènes de Lutèce

Paris, France

The Arènes de Lutèce are among the most important remains from the Gallo-Roman era in Paris (known in antiquity as Lutetia, or Lutèce in French), together with the Thermes de Cluny. Lying in what is now the Quartier Latin, this amphitheater could once seat 15,000 people, and was used to present gladiatorial combats.

Constructed in the 1st century AD, this amphitheater is considered the longest of its kind constructed by the Romans. The sunken arena of the amphitheater was surrounded by the wall of a podium 2.5 m high, surmounted by a parapet. The presence of a 41.2m long stage allowed scenes to alternate between theatrical productions and combat. A series of nine niches aided in improving the acoustics. Five cubbyholes were situated beneath the lower terraces, of which three appear to have been animal cages that opened directly into the arena. Historians believe that the terraces, which surrounded more than half of the arena's circumference, could accommodate as many as 17,000 spectators.

Slaves, the poor, and women were relegated to the higher tiers — while the lower seating areas were reserved for Roman male citizens. For comfort, a linen awning sheltered spectators from the hot sun. Circus acts showcased wild animals. From its vantage point, the amphitheater also afforded a spectacular view of the Bièvre and Seine rivers.

When Lutèce was sacked during the barbaric invasions of 280 A.D., some of the structure's stone work was carted off to reinforce the city's defences around the Île de la Cité. Subsequently, the amphitheater became a cemetery, and then it was filled in completely following the construction of wall of Philippe Auguste (ca. 1210).

Centuries later, even though the surrounding neighbourhood (quartier) had retained the name les Arènes, no one really knew exactly where the ancient arena had been. It was discovered by Théodore Vaquer during the building of the Rue Monge between 1860–1869, when the Compagnie Générale des Omnibus sought to build a tramway depot on the site.

Spearheaded by the author Victor Hugo (1802–1885) and a few other intellectuals, a preservation committee called la Société des Amis des Arènes undertook to save the archaeological treasure. After the demolition of the Couvent des Filles de Jésus-Christ in 1883, one-third of the arena was uncovered. The Municipal Council dedicated funds to restoring the arena and establishing it as a public square, which was opened in 1896.

After the tramway lines and depot were dismantled in 1916 and line 10 of the Paris Métro was constructed, the doctor and anthropologist Jean-Louis Capitan (1854–1929) continued with additional excavation and restoration of the arena toward the end of World War I. The neighbouring Square Capitan, built on the site of the old Saint-Victor reservoir, is dedicated to his memory. Unfortunately, a portion of the original arena — opposite the stage — was lost to buildings which line rue Monge.

Standing in the centre of the arena one can still observe significant remnants of the stage and its nine niches, as well as the grilled cages in the wall. The stepped terraces are not original, but historians believe that 41 arched openings punctuated the façade.

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Eketorp Fort

Eketorp is an Iron Age fort in southeastern Öland, which was extensively reconstructed and enlarged in the Middle Ages. Throughout the ages the fortification has served a variety of somewhat differing uses: from defensive ringfort, to medieval safe haven and thence a cavalry garrison. In the 20th century it was further reconstructed to become a heavily visited tourist site and a location for re-enactment of medieval battles. Eketorp is the only one of the 19 known prehistoric fortifications on Öland that has been completely excavated, yielding a total of over 24,000 individual artifacts. The entirety of southern Öland has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Eketorp fortification is often referred to as Eketorp Castle.

The indigenous peoples of the Iron Age constructed the original fortification about 400 AD, a period known to have engendered contact between Öland natives with Romans and other Europeans. The ringfort in that era is thought to have been a gathering place for religious ceremonies and also a place of refuge for the local agricultural community when an outside enemy appeared. The circular design was believed to be chosen because the terrain is so level that attack from any side was equally likely. The original diameter of this circular stone fortification was about 57 metres. In the next century the stone was moved outward to construct a new circular structure of about 80 metres in diameter. At this juncture there were known to be about fifty individual cells or small structures within the fort as a whole. Some of these cells were in the center of the fortified ring, and some were actually built into the wall itself.

In the late 600s AD the ringfort was mysteriously abandoned, and it remained unused until the early 11th century. This 11th century work generally built upon the earlier fort, except that stone interior cells were replaced with timber structures, and a second outer defensive wall was erected.

Presently the fort is used as a tourist site for visitors to Öland to experience a medieval fortification for this region. A museum within the castle walls displays a few of the large number of artefacts retrieved by the National Heritage Board during the major decade long excavation ending in 1974. Inside the fort visitors are greeted by actors in medieval costumes who assume the roles of period artisans and merchants who might have lived there nine centuries earlier. There are also re-enactment scenes of skirmishes and other dramatic events of daily life from the Middle Ages.

Eketorp lies a few kilometers west of Route 136. There is an ample unpaved parking area situated approximately two kilometers west of the paved Öland perimeter highway. There is also a gift shop on site. During peak summer visitation, there are guided tours available. Visitors are assessed an admission charge.