PARIS FOOD HISTORY WALKS
download a PDF of this walk, click here.
two millennia, little survives of Lutetia (Gallo-Roman
Paris). Yet just enough remains that anyone with a deep
interest in the era can get a sense of the
long-disappeared city. This walk will take you through key
locations from that era.
Before you begin, you
might want to visit the French Ministry of Culture’s
site about Lutetia:
give you an idea of the Roman city’s layout and general
facts about its location and history.
Note that this walk includes visits to
two museums with entry fees and set hours. Since you will
probably want to include these in your walk, be sure to check
if they are open on the day you take it.
Start at metro
Rue Monge. Turn
left as you come out and walk along the outside of the small park
until the entrance to the “Arenas”.
des Arènes de Lutèce
rue des Arênes
“Arenas of Lutetia” are the remnants of the huge
amphitheater that was once outside the Roman city. Given its
original size, this probably welcomed not only residents of
the city itself but people from the countryside. This was a
“mixed use” amphitheater which included a stage
as well as the standard open space (Lutetia also had a
theater within the city itself).
reason to start this tour with the amphitheater is because it was
outside the city. Lutetia had no walls and so no physical
structures mark its boundaries (though archaeologists have now
developed a good general idea of these). But at this location you
are firmly outside what was once Lutetia. Since this location is
now in the heart of modern Paris, this also gives you some idea
how small the Roman city was.
to the rue Monge (exactly how will depend on which exit you use).
Cross to the other side and turn right on the rue Rollin. This
will take you up one side of the “Mount” St.
Genevieve. This low hill was where the Roman city began. Continue
to up to the end of the street and left to the place de la
Contrescarpe. (If you are a Hemingway fan, you might know he
often wrote here.) Turn right and walk west to the opposite side.
You are now at the eastern edge of the original city. You are
also on the rue Mouffetard.
street has existed since Roman times. If you look to your
right (north) you can see that the street continues and in
fact becomes the rue Descartes. In Roman times it began all
the way down near the Seine by the place Maubert. Looking to
your left (south) you will see that the street descends
steeply. (Among other things, it hosts a lovely market
further down.) Once the street continued on to become the
road to Lyons. Today, where it levels out, it becomes the
avenue des Gobelins.
Nearer to Lutetia, the Roman
road once led to a graveyard. While no sign of it remains
today, archaeologists have recovered a great deal of
artifacts from the site.
Continue on to the rue
Blainville. You are now entering the eastern side of the Roman
city. Follow this street until it becomes the rue de l’Estrapade
and then follow on until it becomes the rue des Fossés
Saint-Jacques. Try to imagine Roman-style buildings with red tile
roofs all along the way. Keep walking until you come to the rue
St. Jacques. Turn right on to this street.
Rue St. Jacques
the rue Mouffetard, this street dates to Roman times. But it
was not just any street – it was the cardo maximus,
the north-south street which was the spine of any Roman city.
It is very likely that this road (which might have followed
an earlier Gaulish one) was laid out before the rest of the
city was built. Take a moment to imagine people in togas and
Roman and Gaulish armor walking about it.
on to number 172 on the rue St. Jacques, which is right by the
rue Soufflot. This is probably the point zero at which Roman
surveyors began mapping out what would become the grid of streets
which made up the Roman city. You are now at the heart of the
lost Roman city, right by the site of the most important
structure in a Roman city: the Forum.
SITE of the Roman forum
easiest way to envision the Forum is to think of it as
covering all of the rue Soufflot from the rue
St. Jacques down to the boulevard
St. Michel; more precisely, it covered a rectangle 89 wide by
178 meters in length between the rue Malebranche, the rue
Saint-Jacques, the rue Cujas and the boulevard
St. Michel. Remnants of it survived underground
into modern times
but were moved when a parking structure was built here.
Forum would have included a temple but also numerous shops
and a market and was built on several levels because of the
sloping ground. The macellum
– the main market
– was either in it or nearby. This was not the only
forum built in Gaul; any city that was rebuilt to Roman
standards had one and a number have been documented in
France. More than any other element, it emphasizes how very
Roman a city Lutetia was.
specific sites have been uncovered on the hill itself, including
the remains of a villa in the courtyard of the St. Barbe school
and a small intersection of two streets, with remains of houses,
off the rue Pierre and Marie Curie. But none of this is visible
today (videos of both excavations can be found in the Videos
section of this site). While many of the finer houses were on
this hill, potters also lived in the neighborhood and much of the
Roman pottery found here was made in the city itself.
north on the rue Soufflot and turn left, walking down to the
boulevard St. Michel. Though it was built in 1860, this may
roughly correspond to a lesser Roman road. The grid that made up
the city was based on a Roman unit of 300 feet, and so the
distance between the rue St. Denis (which prolongs the boulevard
St. Michel) and the boulevard St. Martin (which prolongs the rue
St. Jacques) is 600 feet. Some parts of the layout use half the
unit; that is, 150 feet. Evidence of this unit confirms how
planned a city Roman Lutetia was.
across the street to the Luxembourg Gardens. This area too was
part of Roman Lutetia and various Roman remains have been found
Turn right and start north just a few feet up
the Boulevard St. Michel.
Remnant of the Forum
boulevard St. Michel
you head north on the boulevard St. Michel, you will see an
entrance to the parking structure across from number 61. Go
in and downstairs to see a block of stone from the foundation
of the Forum.
Continue north to the rue Cujas. This was once
the northern limit of the Forum. Continue a few steps farther to
the place de la Sorbonne. If you want, you can step into this
small square to see a Gallo-Roman well.
de la Sorbonne
the middle of the square, you will see a round decorative
pond with a smaller circle just to the north of it, this
covered with a metal grill. The grill covers a well which was
once part of a Gallo-Roman ‘island” of housing.
Return to the boulevard St. Michel and
continue north past the rue des
Écoles and the rue Pierre Sarrazin. You will now see the
Cluny museum. Proceed almost to the next corner and turn right to
enter the garden and go
to museum entrance.
[NOTE: the museum is
closed through mid-July 2018]
place Paul Painlevé
Cluny museum is filled with treasures from several eras. But
in regard to the Gallo-Romans, you will want to be sure to
see at least two things: the huge baths and the Pillar of the
Boatmen (Pilier des Nautes).
nearly miraculous that the baths have survived largely intact
for almost two thousand years. They were not the only baths
in Lutetia and others have been discovered since. But these
were above ground and often occupied over the centuries.
(Note that this space was NOT, as it has often been called,
Julian’s palace, nor was Julian crowned emperor here.)
Pillar of the Boatmen is especially precious because it
documents both Roman and Gaulish elements in early
These are not the only Roman sights in
the museum, but they are two you will absolutely not want to
check opening information, visit
to the boulevard St. Michel and head north and across the pont
St. Michel bridge about midway up the boulevard du Palais, to
number 10: the Palace of Justice.
SITE of the Roman palace
boulevard du Palais
gates of today’s Palace of Justice correspond to the
site of the original palace on the island. THIS is almost
certainly the one where Julian (“The Apostate”)
was declared emperor by his troops. A palace – probably
the same one – still stood here in later centuries and
was long used by French kings. Nothing remains of it today
on to the edge of the island and turn right on to the quai de la
Corse. Follow this quai past the next bridge (the pont d’Arcole)
and turn right soon after onto the rue de la Colombe.
SITE of the Roman rampart
rue de la Colombe
Roman times, the quai de la Corse did not exist, anymore than
much of the rest of the outside of the island. It was smaller
then and the Seine came further in. Here you can see a trace
of where the Roman rampart once stood when the water was much
on and turn left onto the rue Chanoinesse, which once ran along
the Roman rampart. Pieces of the rampart have also been found
under the southern side of this street. Again, this gives an idea
of how much smaller the island was in Roman times. Stay to the
right and turn on to the rue Massillon, turn right again and head
east on the rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame. Continue on past the
front of Notre-Dame (at left) until the road coming out of the
square. Turn left and walk to the entrance of the Archeological
Crypt of the Ile de la Cité. Go down the stairs to the
Crypte archéologique de l'île
de la Cité
is the museum for all the remains of structures found
underneath the square – the parvis – in
front of Notre-Dame. This includes both Roman and medieval
finds. Among the Gallo-Roman remnants you will find here are
another (smaller) set of baths and a stretch of the Roman
port (showing yet again how far farther the Seine once came
check opening information, see
so the tour ends with one last look at actual pieces of Lutetia.
Not all of the city was on the Left Bank or the island, but these
were the main centers of the Gallo-Roman city; far less has been
found on the Right Bank. You have now seen the bulk of what
remains of Gallo-Roman Paris.