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Notre-Dame de Paris: History of the archaeological crypt and excavations

Converted in 1980 under the square in front of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral to display archaeological remains discovered during excavations from 1965 to 1972, the crypt provides a unique overview of urban and architectural development of the Île de la Cité, the historical heart of Paris. Visitors can travel back in time by discovering successive buildings erected on the site from Ancient Times to the twentieth century and walk through ancient ruins on which mediaeval and classical remains are superimposed. The aim of the tour is to provide a better understanding of how the city has been in a continuous state of reconstruction for over 2,000 years by revealing its various archaeological layers.

The Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia began to  develop  on the left bank of the Seine in the reign of Augustus (27 BC  to 14  AD). This site was occupied by the Gaulish tribe, the Parisii,  whose  name features on coins recovered fromthe river Seine. In the  first  quarter of the first century AD, several small islands were  joined  together to form the current Île de la Cité.

From the middle of the third century right up until the fifth century AD, Lutetia which was threatened by   the first Germanic invasions, was a strategic site for the defence of   the Roman Empire against the barbarians. The Île de la Cité was   fortified in 308, becoming the active centre of the city and the   settlement on the left bankwas partially abandoned.

The Middle Ages saw the rise of development  focused around the cathedral, whose  construction began in 1163. This  included the creation of a new street,  the rue Neuve Notre-Dame, in line with  the central great door of  the cathedral, the reconstruction of  theHôtel-Dieu hospital to the  South of the cathedral square and the  construction of buildings and  churches.

In the eighteenth century,  many mediaeval  buildings were destroyed to ease traffic and improve  sanitation in the  Île de la Cité. The squarewas extended, the rue Neuve  Notre-Dame was  widened and the Hospice des Enfants-Trouvés foundling  hospital was  built.

In the nineteenth century, the  city prefect,  Haussmann, carried out a radical programme of urban  restructuring,  destroying many old buildings and lanes. Barracks (which  are now the  police  headquarters) were erected at the back of the  square, in  addition to the currentHôtel–Dieu on the side of the square.  The current  layout of the square is the result of these major changes.

Copyrigths: Pilettes de la salle à hypocauste © DAC – Didier Messina, Mur du quai de Seine © DAC – Didier Messina

Click to view video in French: Les Arènes de Lutèce – Paris antique – Lutèce 3D par olemail

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Filed under archaeological crypt and excavations, Notre-Dame de Paris