Peak IT, Paris: New Itineraries for a Fresh View

william romsay williamromsay at
Fri Jan 25 13:55:36 UTC 2008

Peak IT,  Paris: New Itineraries for a Fresh View

Going to Paris? Sooner or later you may. Once there, steer clear of the
typical Parisian landmarks. Follow in the footsteps of Phil, the Senior
Editor of a well-known Paris travel guide. Take a peek at out-of-sight
places few outsiders know. Amazement guaranteed.

Every Paris travel guide seems to have something to add to the already
voluminous information available on such well-known spots as the Louvre and
Orsay museums, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower.

Yet what about discovering the quaint neighborhoods of the 19th century
Paris? Or taking pictures of the inn built for the paupers by Nicholas
Flamel in the 15th century (yes, that's the same Nicholas Flamel written
about in Harry Potter)?

In my reckoning, there's a truly interesting way of discovering Paris, and
that's to take the less traveled path. The one I take with my friends when
we visit the French capital.

So, let's assume you are as eager as we are to learn something new about
Paris, and let's take a peek at just two of its less-well-known jewels. The
next time you take the trip to Paris, you'll be the one leading the way!

The Lutece Arena, a return into time

Before Paris became Paris, the city was the capital of the territory
occupied by the Parisii, the Gallic tribe after which Paris will take its
name in the 4th century A.D. There is some controversy about the original
Celtic name of the city, but when the Romans invaded it in 52 B.C. under
Emperor Julius Caesar, they called it Lutecia (or Lutetia).

In the 2nd century A.D., the Romans built in its middle an amphitheater of
about 25,000 square feet, which could hold about 16,000 spectators. During
the next century, gladiator fights and other less palatable games (e.g.
offering early Christians for lunch to beasts of prey) were held for the
benefit of the local Roman population.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, such games became much less popular, and
as Christianity became the State religion, man-eating events ceased to be
held altogether.

The arena was demolished during the barbarian invasions of 280 A.D., and the
site later became a cemetery. In the late 12th century, the ruins were
buried under a large rampart built to defend Paris. They remained forgotten
until 1869 when they were unearthed to the greatest surprise of all

At the time, the City Council decided Paris did not have the funds necessary
to excavate and preserve the antique discovery, and the development project
which had dug out the ruins was green-lighted.

Later on, in 1883, the site was repurchased and rehabilitated under the
guidance of French novelist Victor Hugo (author of 'Les Miserables'). A
further rehabilitation project began in 1916 which unearthed the site
completely. Vicious attempts at taking over the site and destroying it by
unashamed, greedy, low-life real-estate developers were thwarted by the
local dwellers in 1980.

How do you get to see this beautiful place which, to this day, still remains

Orient yourself on a map, take the subway to the 'Monge' station, and walk
to No. 47 Rue Monge. Enter the hallway, walk along the corridor and there
you are! Right on the sandy ground of the arena where ghosts of ferocious
lions still roam in search for a human prey!

A guaranteed, amazing leap in the past, just short of 2,000 years ago!

The Botanical Gardens and their Alpine Garden

Now on to another amazing curiosity which is sure to tickle the interest of
our plant-loving friends.

In 1640 A.D., under the reign of King Louis the 14th (the same king who
presided over the development of the Versailles Palace), the Royal Garden of
Medicinal Herbs opened its doors 'to the general public and students'. The
project had been green-lighted in 1626 by King Louis the 13th.

The Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Gardens), as it has been called since the
French revolution, is actually a collection of individual gardens -- each
with a peculiar charm and specific plants. It houses several old structures,
including the Botanical School and the Magny Mansion (built in 1650). The
Botanical Gardens are a huge site with a total surface area of about
2,600,000 square feet.

Each of the individual gardens is unique and deserves your attention for
each one is home to specific species of flowers, vegetables, trees, and
medicinal plants. On the Botanical School's plot alone some 4,500 plants are
grown. The Rose Garden (La Roseraie) counts some 170 species of roses!

Amongst these beauties, the Alpine Garden stands out. Between the Otter
Basin and the Cuvier alley (Cuvier was a famous French botanist), a 40,000
square foot parcel was delineated in 1931 for the growing of a diversity of
mountain plant species.

Today, the gardeners of the Alpine Garden tend to the health of plants
coming from places as diverse as the United States, China, Japan, the
Balkans, Morocco, the Caucasian mountains, Spain, and the Himalaya
Mountains! A total of some 2,000 species to look after.

Among the hallmarks of the Alpine Garden is its 18th century Pistachio tree.
The Botanical Gardens house several historical trees: the oldest one was
directly imported from the Eastern United States and planted here in 1636
(an acacia). Among other ancient trees, you can also admire a Lebanese
cedar, which was brought back to France in 1734.

A visit to the Botanical Gardens and its Alpine Gardens is a whole afternoon
affair. Ten minutes into the place and its quietness will make you oblivious
of the hustle-bustle of the city. You will come out of your stroll
absolutely ravished, marveling at the job the gardeners do to maintain this
privileged environment in full bloom.

How do you access this temple of Mother Nature? Take the subway to the 'Gare
d'Austerlitz' station. Walk to the Austerlitz Bridge (Pont d'Austerlitz) and
you will find yourself on a semi-circular plaza (Place Valhubert). The
entrance to the Botanical Gardens is here. It is open every day from 8:00
a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then
wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a
moveable feast." -- Ernest Hemingway

 About the Author: After many years spent in Paris, Phil Chavanne knows the
city in and out. He helps you to prepare your trip to Paris with scores of
informations and useful advices at , a free guide on Paris and Paris Hotels.
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