Les Arènes de Lutèce

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).

One of the minor mysteries of the French language is why their names of ancient Roman arenas are always in the plural form Les Arènes instead of the singular L’Arène, even though there was never more than one arena in each town.

Lutèce, in any case, is the French name for the Roman town of Lutetia, on what is now the Ile de la Cité and the Latin Quarter.

Today the Arènes de Lutèce is a public park, hidden away behind buildings or trees on most sides, but with entrances from rue Monge, rue de Navarre and rue des Arènes.

Les Arènes de Lutèce

The current arena is a not-very-authentic-looking 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” involving a hundred actors, singers and dancers, mainly amateurs.

Poster for Le Grand Théâtre de Paris at the Arènes

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 looked more like a religious activity than a theater production, but perhaps it was meant to be both.

According to their website, the Grand Théâtre de Paris “brings together amateurs and professionals of the performing arts, of all ages and from all backgrounds, inhabitants of Paris and its suburbs to create and perform shows.”

The plan was 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. More installments were scheduled for the following summers.

Whatever the intention of all this was, it at least served to bring a bit of life into the arena, which often looks empty and neglected.

Location and aerial view on monumentum.fr.

My photos on this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on the Latin Quarter in Paris.

6 thoughts on “Les Arènes de Lutèce”

  1. We watched a very interesting boules games there once where an elderly gentleman had a string with a magnet on the end so he could pick up his metal ball and not have to bend over. We thought that was a pretty nifty idea.

  2. Did a lovely walk through the Latin Quarter incorporating this arena a few years ago. Also included Place des Contrescarpe, Jardin des Plantes and the riverbank walk back towards Notre Dame. I remember it being very quiet on a Monday morning.

    1. Me too. These particular ones are not as impressive as many others, but they are in the center of Paris, so Victor Hugo was right to campaign for their preservation.

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