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More than 2000 years of history

 

The archaeology and history of the île de la Cité

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 island, the historical heart of Paris.
Visitors can travel back in time by learning about the succession of buildings on the site from ancient times to the XXth century. Ancient, mediaeval and XVIIIth and XIXth centuries history is brought back to life by the remains of the quay of the ancient port of Lutetia, the Gallo-Roman bath house, the early IVth century city wall, the basement of the former Hôtel-Dieu hospital chapel, the mediaeval remains of the rue Neuve Notre-Dame, the foundations of the hospice des Enfants-Trouvés foundling hospital and the outline of sewers designed by Haussmann.
By reviving the history of one of the most ancient districts of Paris, the crypt demonstrates how the City of Light has continuously reinvented itself for over two thousand years.



Outstanding ancient remains

The Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia grew up on the left bank of the Seine in the reign of the emperor Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD). At the start of the Ith century AD, small islands on the Seine combined to form the current île de la Cité. Economic and commercial activities developed around the river and port. A section of the quay, which is the only remnant of this ancient port, has been preserved (14).
In the IIIrd century, the island was completely built over. This is demonstrated in the crypt by the
remains of huge, luxurious dwellings, including the base of a column (18).
From the middle of the IIIrd century to the Vth AD, Lutetia was threatened by Germanic invasions and transformed itself into a strategic site for the defence of the Roman Empire against the barbarians. The île de la Cité, which was fortified in 308, therefore became the functional centre of the city.
Two outstanding fourth-century structures, ramparts and bath, whose remains can be seen in the crypt, illustrate the transitions in the city at a time when the ancient era was coming to a close and the first barbarian invasions were taking place.
The foundations of the ramparts which encircled the île de la Cité, are made of large stone blocks
salvaged from the necropolis and abandoned monuments on the left bank.
The remains of the bath house occupy the central area of the crypt. Because they are displayed, visitors can imagine a bather’s route from the entrance in the changing room, right through to the warm rooms, whose sub-floor heating system is still visible.



The Middle Ages and the area around Notre-Dame cathedral

In the Middle Ages, urban development in the île de la Cité was focused around the cathedral on which building work began in 1163 under the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully. The rue Neuve Notre-Dame was created in line with the central doorway of the cathedral, the Hôtel-Dieu hospital was rebuilt to the south of the square and churches were built, as were new houses lining the streets. Only the underground areas have survived the cellars of the houses at the sign of Agnus Dei and Saint-Victor, whose two underground levels are displayed in the crypt (5, 7and 16). To the north of the rue Neuve Notre- Dame, were two churches, Saint-Christophe and also Sainte-Geneviève des Ardents, which was
destroyed in 1748, but whose foundations remain.



Traces of major urban developments in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries

In the XVIIIth century, many mediaeval buildings were demolished to ease the flow of traffic and improve sanitation. The square of the cathedral was extended, the rue Neuve Notre-Dame was widened and the new hospice des Enfants-Trouvés foundling hospital was built in 1750 by the architect Boffrand on the site of the Sainte-Geneviève des Ardents church. The crypt and foundations of this hospital remain (6). In 1772, a major fire devastated the mediaeval Hôtel-Dieu hospital and destroyed Sainte-Agnès chapel, sparing only the basement area, which can be seen in the crypt. The hospital buildings were rebuilt on the banks of the Seine (12 and 17).
In the XIXth century, Napoleon III entrusted the city prefect Haussmann with a huge urban planning project – transforming Paris from a mediaeval city into a healthy, safe and accessible city. The
metamorphosis in the île de la Cité proved to be a radical one: seventeen churches and a maze of
lanes were destroyed. The hospice des Enfants-Trouvés and former Hôtel-Dieu disappeared in 1877. A barracks (now the police department headquarters) was built at the end of the square and the existing Hôtel-Dieu hospital to one side of it. By the end of the XIXth century the square had acquired its contemporary layout.



 

Exhibitions exploring the history of Paris

For several years, the crypt has hosted exhibitions devoted to the history of ancient and mediaeval
Paris. From 2005-2009 an initial cycle covered the Gallo-Roman period by exploring themes from everyday life, including food (10) and building methods, as well as town planning and ancient architecture. This programme will continue in 2010, focusing on the late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages.



 

 

 

 

 

Key facts, figures and dates

1965-1972 : Archaeological excavations are conducted on the square in front of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral during the construction of a car park.
1974 : Creation of the crypt
1980 : The crypt is opened to the public
2000 : Management of the site is taken over in October 1999 and the crypt is officially attached to the musée Carnavalet
2008  :140,000 visitors
118 metres length of the crypt
29 metres width of the crypt
2,200 sq. m surface area, of which 1,800 sq.m is used to display archaeological remains

Crédits photographiques: La crypte archéologique © DAC - Didier Messina
Pilettes de la salle à hypocauste © DAC - Didier Messina
La crypte archéologique © DAC - Philippe Ladet