In the 1960s, during excavations for a car park outside Notre Dame, ancient Roman ruins were discovered 80 metres underneath the site of Notre Dame. Excavators found artefacts such as huts, pillars and boats, dating back more than six thousand years. The site was converted into the Archeological Crypt of Notre Dame and is now operated by Musee Carnavalet, a museum dedicated to celebrating the history of Paris. The Crypt of Notre Dame showcases the archeological layers of Paris, a city that has been under construction for more than 2000 years.
Archaeologists found remnants from the Parisii tribe, the original inhabitants of what is now Paris, and from the Gallo-Roman era when Romans settled the city, which was then called Lutece. The ruins are the stars of the museum, with remnants of the old Roman port, 4th century baths and dwellings. Images and model constructions of Paris throughout the ages have been added to the museum to illustrate how the city has been in a constant state of growth for more than two thousand years.
It’s easy to see carefully-preserved cities such as Paris as static or stuck in a time warp but as the museum demonstrates, it is a city of constant change. A little digging reveals layers and layers of civilization.
In comparison to what lies beneath, Notre Dame Cathedral is a baby. Built in the 12th century, it’s only half as old as some of the artefacts and ruins in the Archaeological Crypt of Notre Dame.
My favourite artefact the tiny bronze gladiator figurine that belonged to a Roman child. It brought the site to life as I imagined a child playing amongst the ruins (before they were ruins!) and idolising his favourite gladiator.
I recommend visiting the Archaeological Crypt of Notre Dame before visiting Notre Dame Cathedral, to get a sense of the time jump between the two. Unlike the cathedral, the crypt is not very crowded, which amazes me considering how much history is underground. To get to the crypt, take the stairs that are in the square outside Notre Dame. Admission is 8 Euros, or 6 Euros for concession tickets.
Have you visited Notre Dame or the crypt? What are the most interesting ruins you’ve visited?
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