Roman Around Paris

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.

the entrance to the crypt is here

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.

These large blocks of stone were recycled from monuments and used for the foundation for the city wall, which was probably built of smaller stones.

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.

I think this is the basement of the house, but don't hold me to it. I'm not getting paid for this, people.

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.

old street in the Latin Quarter

This tree dates from 1601 and came from North Carolina! 1601? How is that even possible?

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.

A little background info for you. Yes, I know it's in French. Welcome to my world.

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.

11 Comments

Filed under Notre-Dame crypt

11 responses to “Roman Around Paris

  1. Gypsies! They’re relentless. You have heard of the golden ring trick, right? If not, don’t let someone try to give you a gold ring, OK?
    Did you see the ruins of the Roman street on the Ile St. Louis too? Poor Genevieve–all that’s left of her is her finger. Parisians use to drag her out every year to celebrate her and then during the Revolution they burned and scattered her! Mindlessness!
    Hope all is well and you’re settling in.

    • Yes, I have heard of the ring trick! I am slowly settling. Had hoped to finally get my apartment put together today (light fixtures, pictures, curtains) but handyman cancelled. SO bummed!

  2. That’s the French for you–I’m used to the inconveniences of French life at this point. In a way I’ve become a tad bit more relaxed about somethings–like banking and paperwork. Guess that’s a good thing though. What I’m not relaxed about are things like–not having hot water for 5 days because the building is undergoing renovations. Thank goodness we’ll be in the Loire for 2 of those 5 days. Otherwise cold showers it is!

    • I have just spent hours trying to find a place to stay in the Loire while my parents are here. Everything seems booked. Where are you staying (if you don’t mind my asking….)?

  3. Chateau du Portail
    http://www.chateauduportail.com/contenu.php?page=accueil&langue=fr

    It’s a bit on the pricey side, but I want the feel of a real chateau. I found it through a blog. We’ll have to hire taxis to visit the others or ride bikes near this one.

  4. I have to ask, what is the ring trick? We were standing outside the Louvre when a man did that to us. Being sensible Americans in sensible shoes we said no and walked away …fast, not exactly sure what we were power walking away from!

    • It’s very common around here- don’t know about the rest of the world. They pretend to have found a gold ring on the street and then ask if it’s yours and try to put it on your finger, after which they want you to pay them for it (it’s worthless) and while you’re wondering how they hell you got a ring put on your finger someone else has the opportunity to pick your pocket! Voila! You were smart to make haste in your sensible shoes!

  5. Julie Little

    So interesting. The Roman Streets sort of remind me of the streets in Pompeii. There they were lower than the curbs so that when it rained the peoples could get around.The streets became anything from streams to raging rivers complete with all sorts of garbage etc.

  6. Kathy Powell

    Just started reading The Paris Wife. So fun to see a picture of where they lived. It looks like you are keeping yourself busy. I love beiing in Paris with you but not really “in” Paris. Can’t wait to go around the world with Claire!

  7. Kathy Powell

    Don’t judge my typos!

    • k

      A wonderful report of a great tour. Would have liked to see when Julius Ceasar visited. Imagine…..

      Helen sez…..glad Claire is flying before 9/11 i.e. 9/10

Hollah back y'all!

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