Tucked in the Quartier Latin between the Panthéon and the Jardin des Plantes, this Roman-era amphitheater is rarely on a tourist’s radar, but it certainly deserves a visit on a nice day, especially if you love history.
Built in the first century AD, when Paris was actually named ‘Lutetia’ (‘Lutèce’ in French), the Arènes de Lutèce once held gladiator combats, entertaining crowds of up to 15,000 people. The amphitheater was partially destroyed during the 3rd century but was rebuilt during the 6th century when it was once again used for putting on shows, this time of a much less violent variety.
Sometime later, history suggests around the 12th century, the arena was filled in with dirt and eventually became a cemetery. The actual location of the site was forgotten and remained unknown for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the Roman ruins were rediscovered. And we actually have French author and activist Victor Hugo to thank for the fact that the amphitheater was preserved following its excavation.
Today, students from the nearby high schools and colleges often congregate on the steps to eat lunch and chat. On the weekends, Parisians are known to gather here to play pétanque, as the sand makes the perfect pitch. And family-friendly events are also held in the center of the ancient arena, so don’t be surprised if you find bouncy houses among the ruins.
Somewhat protected from the rush and noise of the rest of Paris thanks to the small park that surrounds it, Les Arènes is a great place to relax and soak up the sun – and some history.