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The Heart of Paris

Excavation of houses from the Roman Empire, archeological site on the Curie campus, Paris, photo by L. de Cargouët/InrapParis was a Roman settlement, and a Celtic one before that. There is apparently new information about the Roman era of the French capital, as reported by Anne-Marie Romero in an article (Le coeur de Lutèce révélé au public, April 28) in Le Figaro (my translation and links added):

At a site on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, long protected by the presence of a convent, a street full of houses provides evidence of the first settlement of Gallo-Roman Lutetia. Paris was not made in a day, as the saying goes. Archeology may be showing exactly the opposite. At the intersection of the Rue Saint-Jacques and the Rue Gay-Lussac, on a property now belonging to the Université Paris-VI, an excavation has just revealed a little mini-neighborhood (400 square meters) remarkably preserved, apparently built during the reign of Augustus (27 to 14 A.D.), in other words, very soon after the conquest, evidently occupied for two and a half centuries, up to the middle of the 3rd century.

Led by Inrap (Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives) under the scientific direction of Didier Busson, director of the department of architectural history and archeology for the City of Paris, the dig is stunningly clear, which is hardly unusual in this 5th arrondissement, long occupied by monastic houses and their vast gardens, rarely destroying what lay underneath the ground. Here, it is a Mansart map from 1632 that mentions the installation of a convent of Visitandines, today replaced by the Institut de géographie. At this stage of work, the visible level is that of the third century, that somber period during which all Roman towns were abandoned, surely a consequence of the troubles caused by the barbarian invasions. After that date, the neighborhood was abandoned and went back to wilderness.

If the site is not exactly equipped with all the modern conveniences, one can clearly make out a street, 8 meters wide and bordered by sidewalks and sewers, plus here and there two groups of mid-sized houses. One of them had an hypocaustum (central heating), walls painted in Pompeiian red and a floor covered with inverted tiles, proving that this was indeed a "lower-middle-class" neighborhood, to use Didier Busson's expression.
The plan is to continue the excavation by removing the third-century level and digging further. However, the public will have the chance to view the work at its present stage, for a single day on May 13, with the archeologists as tour guides. For our readers in Paris, the site will be open from 10 am to 12 noon and 2 to 5 pm. Meet the guide at the entrance to the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, at 193 rue St-Jacques (5e).

Other excavations around Paris -- on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, on the north side of the Panthéon hill, at the Place de la Sorbonne, on the Rue Louis-Thiollier, at the Institut Curie -- are clarifying our understanding of the Roman town that existed there. All appear to be showing that the 5th was the historic center of the Gallo-Roman settlement. Unfortunately, there is still no indication -- and perhaps never will be -- of the precise location of the oppidum (the word that Caesar used to describe the hill forts of the Gauls) of the Parisii that preceded it. The Inrap Web site has a few pictures of the dig, including the one shown here.

1 comment:

Diane Dehler said...

Fascinating. I am glad that I wandered into your space. It is rich with exciting visuals and interesting text.