I was happy to be able to join a group of parents from the American School of Paris who do walking tours every two weeks with a fabulous tour guide named Jacques. There are 25 or so people in the group, and one can usually bring a guest or two because members inevitably can’t make every tour. The tours last several hours and are followed by lunch for anyone who cares to hang around and socialize. That would be me! Yesterday was our first tour and we visited Roman ruins and the oldest parts of Paris. It was fascinating. Here is a short version.
In the 1980’s, in the course of building a car park, archeologists discovered mediaeval and classical remains under the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. The best of these were preserved, in site, and are now beautifully displayed in the Crypt in Notre-Dame.
Evidence of the tribes (the Parisi) occupying this site way before the Romans, wooden huts and pillars and boats, was found here. These things are up to 6000 years old. This area became strategically important to the Romans because the island in the Seine (which was much wider than it is now) aided their access to England. In 52 BC the Romans defeated the Gauls in the Battle of Lutece and the town of Lutetia grew up on the left bank, which was easier to defend against the barbarians invading from the east. In 308, a stone wall was built around the Ile de la Cite (the island where Notre Dame is today) using stone from monuments the Romans had built on the left bank.
construction of Notre-Dame began in 1163 under the direction of the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully. A new road was built in order to access the site of the Cathedral. Rue Neuve Notre-Dame was 6 meters wide, much broader than the typical street of the period, and was laid out in line with the centre of the facade of Notre-Dame. Houses were built along the street, including one whose basement is preserved in the crypt.
When we left the Crypt, which was much more beautifully laid out than my pitiful photos indicate, we crossed a bridge and walked around the Latin Quarter. This is the area settled by the Romans, where only Latin was spoken. Some of the old, Roman streets are still visible.
Of course we went through a couple of fabulously old churches. One of them contained the tomb of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. I couldn’t get a picture because we were chased out of the church–just because they were having a mass. Give me a break! But the church I was able to snap was gorgeous. The oldest parts of it are from the 13th century.
For those of you who just read, or are about to read, The Paris Wife, here is where Hemingway lived with Hadley. If you come here for your meeting on that book, I’ll take you in person and show you the actual building rather than just the signs.
So after that we pretty much wound it up and went to have lunch. We sat at a long table, the end of which was right up next to an open doorway (which was being used for ventilation rather than as a walkway). I was facing the window, at the end of the table, and a guy was sitting at the end with his back to the doorway. A young woman holding a toddler approached him from the sidewalk and seemed to be asking for money. He told her he didn’t have anything and sort of leaned back in his chair, and damned if she didn’t reach in over his shoulder and take a chicken wing and couple of fries! She then just continued walking down the sidewalk, laughing to her friends. Incredible. I hope she at least shared with her kid.
I hope you enjoyed your little history lesson today.
Happy Birthday to my sweet girl, Claire, who flies off to see the world tomorrow!
My advice, sweetheart, is to not sit in restaurants with your back to the street, and always guard your fries.