Paris - The Romans In Lutetia
( Originally Published 1921 )
OF all the legends concerning the origin of Paris the most charming is that intrepid fabrication of the Moyen Age which names Francus, son of Hector, father of France and founder of its principal city, called for his beautiful uncle, Paris.
The story, with all its amusing detail, may be followed in the transcription by Jehan Bouchet, of Poitiers, who, writing in the early XVIth century, gives a complete genealogy of the descent of " Pharamond," the mythical " first Merovingien," from Astynax (Francus), who, thrown over the walls of Troy by Ulysses, escaped in a sack to Hungary, becoming king of the Sicarnbres, whose domain extended to the banks of the Rhine. Another version establishes the grandson of Priam as king of Gaul and founder of Troyes, in Champagne, from which he came to plant upon the island of the Seine the city of the Parisians.
Whether Bouchet, the transmitter of this burlesque history, was a practical joker, or merely a naif chronicler, we can only surmise. At all events Ronsard takes the fable as the basis of his epic poem, La Franciade, and so it passes into literature.
Leaving to the realms of fiction such pleasing fancies, such scant knowledge as we have of the primitive settlement engirdled by the Seine comes from the note-books of the Roman emperors who encountered it during the conquest of Gaul, and who made it during the subsequent years of occupation a place of residence.
To the best of belief the Parisii, as the Romans name them, were a Celtic people of comparatively small importance who occupied a stronghold upon the Seine at the period of Roman conquest. Julius Caesar found them here upon his arrival with his conquering host from 58 to 51 B.C., so that it was in the first century before our era that the little tribe figured for the first time upon the historic scene.
Their town, called Lutetia Parisiorum (Lutetia of the Parisians), was situated, says Caesar, " on an island of the river Sequana [Seine]." There are writers who say that Julius Caesar built the Grand Chatelet, the first great gateway of the island city on the north bank, but it seems fairly certain that while he conquered, pillaged, and destroyed extensively he built no edifice in Gaul.
Beside the Palais in the Cite, the successors of the greatest Roman. built a country seat on the left bank of the Seine not far from the present Sorbonne, a palace of vast extent and in the Roman manner with baths, whose gardens and dependances extended from the Mont Locutitius (now Sainte-Genevieve) to the banks of the Seine. Something of the scale of magnificence of this Palais des Thermes may be judged from the great frigidarium, which stands in a state of remarkable perfection after sixteen centuries, devoted chiefly to neglect and abuse, abutting sharply upon the Boulevard Saint-Michel.
In this palace the emperors went into winter quarters. Constantius Chlorus is thought to have been the builder; he lived fourteen winters in Lutetia; while it is historically certain that Julian the Apostate lived here and that, in 306, his troops proclaimed him emperor in the camp without the Palais des Thermes.
The emperor Julian, in his Misopogon, describing Paris as his Cara Lutetia, found it " situated on a small island entirely surrounded by the waters of a river, and reached by two wooden bridges; " from which we judge that for several centuries under the Romans the stockaded island village did not grow beyond its natural boundary, nor did it compete in importance with such Gallic towns as Arles, Nimes, Marseilles, Bordeaux, or Lyon.
The name Lutetia was of unknown origin. For some it indicated the " city of crows," for others " the muddiest " city; but in any case, whatever its derivative, the name of the town was soon displaced by the name of the tribe, and Lutetia be-came Parisea Civitas, the city of the Parisians, and so Paris.
At first the river formed the highway, then the two bridges, which Julian describes, tied the village to the mainland, one to the right, the other to the left bank of the Seine, standing where are now the Pont au Change and the Petit Pont, and these two bridges put the city into communication with the two principal roads built by the Romans, one leaving Paris for the northern provinces and the coast, the other bearing away towards Orleans and Rome.
The old Route d'Orleans, upon which lay the country seat of the Caesars, lies buried under the present Rue Saint-Jacques, as was proven when, in 1842, that ancient street of old Paris was opened to a considerable depth for the laying of a sewer, and the antique Roman paving, composed of enormous blocks of sandstone, irregularly laid (such as one still sees in the city of Autun) was exposed. A dozen of these blocks were taken up and deposited in the garden of the Palais des Thermes as part of its contemporary collection.
That the soil of Paris covers many interesting souvenirs of the Roman occupation and conquest has been proven over and over again when, in digging foundations, laying drains, or whatever, the workman's pick has encountered fragments of edifices, portions of walls, ruins of houses, tombs, temples, altars to pagan deities, statues, inscriptions, coins. Before the XVIIth century such discoveries, if made, were unrecorded, but since that time the city has taken care to preserve such precious fragments of a remote civilization, and keeps at the Louvre, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Cluny Museum, or again some few at the Musee Carnavalet, a large and growing collection of treasures found in the soil of Paris.
From these discoveries it has been possible to trace the extent and disposition of the Romanized city in which Julian the Apostate loved to dwell. The Palais upon the prow of the island was balanced by a Temple to Jupiter raised by the boatmen of Paris, in the 1st century of our era, upon the eastern extremity of the city, where later was raised the first Christian church. Its remains were discovered in 1711, in digging under the choir of Notre-Dame, and have been transported to the Salle des Thermes.
These remains consist of nine large blocks of stone carved with reliefs and inscriptions. One of them, of which three faces are charged with reliefs, is inscribed on its fourth:
TIB. CAESARE, AUG JOVI OPTUMO MAXSUMO... M. NAUTAE. PARISIACI PUBLICE POSIERUNT.
Traced by a clumsy hand the letters omitted were afterwards added above the words to which they belonged. The inscription is supposed to mean: Under Tiberius Caesar Augustus, the Parisian boatmen publicly erected this altar to the great and good Jupiter. As it was customary in the first centuries of the new faith to supplant idolatrous temples by Christian churches there is little doubt that the first church erected on the site of Notre-Dame was deliberately placed over the demolished Temple of Jupiter.
In close proximity to the Palais des Thermes was the Roman camp, placed in such a manner as to protect the palace. It occupied in great part the declivity where is to-day the Luxembourg Garden. Contemporary writings had indicated the existence of this camp, or barracks, near the palace of Constantius Chlorus, but it was not until the beginning of the XIXth century that its exact position was defined.
The first indication of its probable location was, in 1615, when, in throwing up the earth for the foundations of the Luxembourg Palace, a bronze figure of Mercury was found; and three centuries later, when the eastern part of the garden was terraced, important researches and discoveries were made. Then cooking utensils and table implements were uncovered in abundance as well as a great number of vases, whole or in fragments and of all sizes and dimensions, plates, spoons, forks, and the handles of knives. Many objects strictly military in character belonging to the costume of a soldier, such as hooks, buckles, or fibuli, buttons, ornaments, harness, and scabbards, were also found.
In 1836 and 1838 new discoveries were made in digging to make additions to the Luxembourg Palace for the installation of the House of Peers, and in digging the foundations of the orangerie to the west of the palace. Amongst the mass of fragments then found was a cachette made of five Roman bricks with a cover of thin silver, handsomely embossed. This cachette contained seven hundred large bronze medals of twenty-five Roman emperors from Galba to Mamaea, and two hundred small silver medals from Augustus to Volusian, from which it was presumed that the hiding place was closed up about the IIIrd century.
Further excavations incident to the opening of the Rue Soufflot, in 1848, revealed substructures in which were recognized the remains of the castra stativa, or barracks, of the Gallo-Roman garrison which is supposed to have extended from the Luxembourg Gardens to the Rue Monge, an old street which lies well behind and below the Pantheon.
Roman tombs were found in the heights of the Saint-Jacques quarter, remains of an ancient pottery manufacture were identified under the foundations of the Pantheon, and in 1870-1883. excavations beyond the Rue Monge disclosed a small amphitheatre of the second or third century. " On the east side of the Mont Sainte-Genevieve," says Delaure, writing the history of Paris, " was a site where one sole deed of 1284 gave the name ` Clos des Arenes.' This gave rise to the opinion that an amphitheatre had existed there, but nothing remains to establish the fact." The historian never knew of its existence but is careful to record the exact location of the site, as lying between a house formerly called " La Doc-trine Chretienne " and the Rue Saint-Victor.
When I first saw this arena, in 1905, about half of it only had been uncovered, while old houses built over the other half stood undisturbed, an odd and exceedingly picturesque mingling of antiquity and modernity tucked away in an old, dilapidated quarter of Paris, far from the track of the beau monde. Now the whole amphitheatre has been uncovered and so unsparingly restored as to have lost its convincing manner. On, the night of the famous Fourteenth of July, 1919, as part of the memorable peace celebration of that day, the rehabilitated and rejuvenated amphitheatre of the Romans was inaugurated by a performance of Le Cid, by the artists of the Comedie Francaise; but whether owing to the excessive restoration of the place itself, or to the overdone traditionalism of the French actress, in particular, or the incongruity of the audience, or the difficulties made about entering, or whatever, the performance, to me at least, failed absolutely of effectiveness, and with the best of predispositions in its favour I lost completely the sense of every century but my own, with its fatigues and horrors so barely distanced. The unending douleur of the heroine seemed in bad taste after all we had been through, and one felt disconcerted by her lack of reticence.
Nothing was spared to make the Palais des Thermes a splendid residence. A Roman aqueduct brought water from the springs of Rongis, far from the centre of Paris. Subterranean during the greater part of its course, it traversed the valley of Arcueil along a suite of high arcades of which time has respected a few piers, of fine architecture. The antique aqueduct has been completely recognized throughout its extent and is accompanied by a modern conduit which brings to Paris the waters of the same source.
The Gallo-Roman palace was abandoned at the approach of the Norman invasion. It offered less security than the Palais of the Cite, sheltered behind a wall and protected by its natural moat, the two arms of the Seine. About the end of the XIIth century, however, Jean de Hauteville still speaks in pompous language of the summits of this palace " lost in the skies," while its foundations " invaded the empire of the dead."
Philippe Auguste gave the palace to Henri, his chamberlain, in 1218; and in 1360, Pierre de Chalus, abbot of Cluny, acquired what still stood, for the wall of Philippe Auguste, which should have protected the Palais des Thermes, on the contrary diminished its extent and demolished several dependances in its path. During the interval between its ownership by kings and its purchase by the abbots of Cluny the palace underwent many changes, of which the most interesting was the erection of hanging gardens, similar to those of Babylon, established above the solid Roman arches. One of these gardens subsisted until 1820.
Upon the site of the ancient palace two other abbots of Cluny, Jean de Bourbon and Jacques d'Amboise, built the sumptuous XVth century hotel, one of those rare civil edifices which bear witness to the architectural taste of its epoch. In its perfect state of preservation it offers a charming specimen of the living quality in domestic architecture which expanded at the beginning of the XVth century and was far from being exhausted at the dawn of the Renaissance. As rep-resenting the transition between Gothic and Renaissance feeling, this Hotel de Cluny belongs properly to later ramblings, but since the existing remnant of the Palais des Thermes cannot be visited now without passing through it, curiosity must be in part satisfied.
The hotel was the town residence of the abbots of Cluny. But as they came seldom to Paris, their palace was from time to time let to various distinguished persons: thus Marie d'Angleterre, the widowed bride of Louis XII, came here to pass her period of mourning and was here married to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. In this hotel Francois I married his daughter Madeleine to James V of Scotland. The Cardinals of Lorraine, the princes of Guise, the duc d'Aumale sojourned here during their trips to Paris. After-wards the hotel was lived in by actors, then by nuns of Port Royal, and under the Revolution be-came national property and served as a place of public meetings for this quarter. In the early part of the XIXth century it was bought by du Sommerard, an archaeologist, who enriched it with his precious collections, the nucleus of the present museum.
Meanwhile as the Hotel de Cluny waxed glorious the Palais des Thermes was neglected and abandoned. Its monumental ruin, the frigidarium, served as a storage house for a barrel maker, to which base use its architecture lent itself marvellously. If it was not torn down it was probably because of the expense and inconvenience of demolishing so stalwart a structure; but in order that it should not offend the eye of the distinguished occupants of the Hotel de Cluny, the hanging gardens of which we have spoken were built over the roof. The Roman vaulting supported on its back a deep bed of earth divided into flower-beds and kitchen gardens, where apple trees grew six feet high, and lettuces and lilies flourished. One walked out into this garden through the rooms of the second floor of the abbatial residence in indifference if not in ignorance of the august foundations whose robust constitution alone saved them.
Louis XVIII was the first monarch of France since the Merovingiens to take an interest in their fate. He was a lettered prince, capable, so says tradition, of reciting whole books of Virgil and odes of Horace, from which perhaps came his taste for Roman antiquities. At any rate in 1819 through his intervention the Thermes was rescued, the gardens demolished, and the old monument leased by the city and a certain sum voted for the restoration of the walls. Afterwards it became the property of the municipality, and when, in 1842, upon the death of du Sommerard, the hotel of the abbots of Cluny, with the collections it contained, was purchased by the state, the Thermes was presented by the city, and the whole united in the present Musee de Cluny that forms one of the series of national museums of France.
Fragments of Roman construction may be recognized throughout the Hotel de Cluny, especially where it joins the Thermes; its west wing rests against the antique wall. It is through this wing that one must pass to enter the great hall of the Roman palace, now devoted to an appropriate collection of antique debris contemporary with itself or culled from the demolition of innumerable monuments of the Mogen Age.
All bare and despoiled as it is the Salle des Thermes, with its high vaultings, its archivolts, its arcades and niches, still commands admiration and respect. On the north side is the piscine, or swimming pool, its flooring lower down; and on the other side arcades, now walled in, communicated with other rooms, and great niches show plainly where canals brought water to the baths from the springs of Rongis. Of the tepidarium nothing remains but the ruined walls ; it was bordered with big niches and arranged as a hemicycle.
Presiding over the exhibits exhumed from the soil of Lutece is a statue of Julian the Apostate, found in a marble cutter's yard in Paris at the time that the ruins of the Thermes were about to be rescued from their misery and abandon. No one knew its origin, whether it dated from the Roman occupation or whether it had been brought in under Francois I, who had a taste for antique sculptures and who started the collections at the Louvre; but its antiquity has never been doubted.
We are here then, at last, under vaultings and within walls which date back to the time of the Caesars, in the very oldest building of Paris, and it is here, par excellence, that the most intelligent study of the city should begin, by reason of its origin and its destiny.
At first, perhaps, as one looks upon these bare stone walls and upon the fragments of primitive monuments with which the room is furnished, one feels a chill as of the abstract over all, a remoteness too elusory to offer any point of contact. But not so. One has only to read a very little into antiquity to find how intensely human it all was. And as one learns even a little about that past which the intense vitality of the French has from time to time ruthlessly swept aside in the achievement of its ever modern purpose, this museum, thus housed within its own chief exhibit, becomes of absorbing, living interest, and constantly draws us by its extraordinary verity and the fecundity of its inspiration.