Friday, June 15, 2012

Musée de Cluny and Crypte Archéologique

We finally made it to the National Museum of the Middle Ages, which is also known as the Musée de Cluny. The mansion formerly belonged to the abbots of Cluny, and was rebuilt in the late 15th century. The museum has a variety of important medieval artifacts, but probably the most important are the six La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) tapestries, from the late fifteenth century, a famous work of art from the Middle Ages.

Located in the in 5th arrondissement, the Musée de Cluny building is partially built on the remains of Gallo-Roman baths from the 3rd century (known as the Thermes de Cluny), which may still be visited. They constitute about one-third of a large bath complex that used to exist in the ancient city of Lutetia, the ancestor of present-day Paris.

But the story of Paris actually starts on the nearby Île de la Cité, in the middle of the Seine, which was settled by the Parisii, a Gallic tribe who settled in the area during the 3rd century BC. The area was eventually conquered by the Romans and became the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia (Lutetia Parisiorum in Latin), which spilled over to the Left Bank.  The city reclaimed its original appellation of 'Paris' towards the end of the Roman occupation.

Fast forward to the 20th century. On the Cité island, just beneath the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral square, while trying to build a subterranean parking lot, they discovered the foundations and vestiges of buildings that were constructed during the Gallo-Roman period. The site became the Crypte Archéologique du Parvis Notre Dame and is one of the 'History of Paris' museums of the City of Paris, which we also finally visited this week. The Crypte Archéologique is built around the archaeological remains and illustrates Paris' origins and shows the life and settings of the Île de la Cité from the 3rd to the 19th centuries. 

Very little is left of the ancient Gallo-Roman city, but in the 5th arrondissement, hidden behind some apartment buildings, some remains of the Arènes de Lutèce, a 1st century arena, still exist. The site was discovered in the 1860s when they were building Rue Monge and is now a public park.

After our tour, we meandered across the Seine toward Place du Chatelet, where we noticed Le Zimmer, a cafe-restaurant we had been to during our vacation in Paris in July 2010. My brother and his wife were in town the morning we landed in Paris and invited us there for breakfast (which is why I look a bit jet-lagged in the picture).

When we were there in 2010 it was summer, so we sat outside and never saw there was such a beautiful restaurant inside. This time we went inside for lunch. Le Zimmer is next to the Theatre du Chatelet and saw its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it was completely redone in 2000 and definitely feels very Parisian. Unfortunately my camera ran out of batteries, so I only have these bad cell phone pictures. 

1 comment:

  1. In America, they would go ahead with the parking lot (OK and move the remains to a suburb and call it Paris World). How fine to leave it and show it where it belongs. And how fine to see Cluny again, thanks. As always you are a great guide. When you are nostalgic the way you make me nostalgic, all these photos and posts will be your own historic museum. "We'll always have Paris."