Les Arènes de Lutèce is an ancient slice of Gallo-Roman Paris in the heart of the Latin Quarter

Little remains but the outlines of this nearly 2,000-year-old performance space in a tiny, hidden park called place Emile Mâle in the Latin Quarter. However, the very idea of such a slice of the ancient Roman city of Lutèce surviving to become a tiny park through which Parisians walk their dogs is pretty amazing.

You can still see bits of the stage, the acoustical niches, and some of the wall cages for wild animals. The bleachers are a modern reproduction to suggest a shadow of what was once there—they originally extended much, much higher. The arena was once capable of seating 15,000 to 17,000 sepctators.

The history of the Roman amphitheater in Paris

The Arènes de Lutèce was built in the AD 1st century. Unlike more famous sporting arenas (like the Colosseum in Rome), it was not a full circle or ellipse, but rather two-thirds of one with one flat side.

As such acted as a combination theater for cultural performances and amphitheater for gladiatorial combat, wild beasts battles, and the usual gory fare of the ancient Roman sporting world.

By the late 3rd century, the Arena of Lutèce was already being picked over for stones to help build defenses against Barbarian invasions. As it became more and more of an urban quarry for pre-cut stones, the space slowly degenerated over the centuries into a cemetery, and later (in the wearly 1200s) was filled in completely and lost.

Even though the surrounding neighborhood was still called Les Arènes, academics could never pinpoint the location of the eponymous ancient arena until the 1860s, when a company began excavating the site to build a trolley depot and stumbled across the remains. Victor Hugo and other Parisian intellectuals successfully managed to convince the city to start the excavation and preservation of the site.

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