The Parisii

Who were the Parisii? No, that’s not a typo! This Gaulish people were some of the first inhabitants of what is now Paris, the city whose name came from these very first Parisians. For fans of Astérix and Obélix, images quickly enter our heads: blond, mustached Gauls with tight breeches and horned helmets, forging battles against Julius Caesar armed with bottles of magic potion…

Hold your horses! The fictionalized version may have a few truthful elements, but let’s set the story straight!

The City of the Parisii

No trace of a Gaulish settlement was ever found on Ile de la Cité. But elements of an important pre-historic city were uncovered in Nanterre, just west of Paris, during the construction of the A86 highway. This may, in fact, have been the infamous Parisii city. This metropolis was destroyed by the Romans when they invaded Gaul, but the Parisii rebuilt their city not too far away, on the islands that had, up until that point, been Celtic places of worship: the modern Ile de la Cité. The city of the Parisii could – and would! -- be reborn.

Paris-Lutetia

Since the 3rd century, the Parisii had been living off of the river. They taxed boat passage and the crossing of bridges over what is now the Seine. If you enter the crypt under Notre Dame cathedral, which you can access from the square, you can see what remains of the 1st century quay.

Lutetia – the Roman name for the settlement on and around the islands – was a prosperous city, home to an amphitheater in the Roman style. We’re referring, of course, to the Arènes de Lutèce, in the 5th arrondissement. Today’s amphitheater is void of gladiators and lions, but it is home to pétanque, the French game similar to Italian bocce. Not nearly as impressive, you might say!

The ancient Parisii must have adapted the Roman way of life at least somewhat, because they also added a thermal bath to their city. You can visit the frigidarium at the Cluny Museum, not far from the Arènes themselves.

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