Few vestiges of the Gallo-Roman period remain in Paris… at least not on the surface. Fans of Roman ruins can certainly wander the Lutèce arenas in the 5th arrondissement, but the Cluny baths are another element of this period that you should definitely explore! From the outside, the ancient ruins and medieval elements seem indistinguishable, which is why a bit of information before your visit is essential.
Built in the 2nd century, the Cluny baths were partially destroyed in the 4th century and were subsequently abandoned until the 15th century, when the Abbot of Cluny installed his abbey residence against the outside of the ruins.
During your visit of the Cluny baths, you’ll find that there are only two Roman elements remaining: the frigidarium and the caldarium. You can see the ruins of the caldarium if you walk alongside the building on the boulevard Saint-Michel towards rue du Sommeraud. As for the frigidarium, you won’t have any trouble recognizing it if you visit the building itself: you’ll immediately feel the cool air as soon as you enter. The frigidarium housed the cold baths of the structure. This large rectangular room’s vaults still stand 15 meters high, and the Nautes pillar is considered a major archeological discovery.
While the baths themselves date back to Roman times, it’s impossible to discuss them or to visit them without also considering the medieval residence of the Cluny abbots. This former residence is now home to Paris’ medieval museum. Not only is it one of the rare examples of medieval civil architecture in Paris, with its original layout intact, but medieval treasures are guarded within, ripe for discovery.
Remarkable tapestries, sculptures, stained-glass windows, gold objects and illuminated manuscripts await you inside the museum. One major work that can be found on the first floor is the famous Lady and the Unicorn.
Just across the river, the towering medieval Notre Dame cathedral appears whole, but much of the façade was renovated in the 19th century; inside the Cluny Museum, you’ll find the original heads of the Gallery of Kings, who were decapitated by French Revolutionaries at the end of the 18th century.
Since 2000, the charming wild gardens are opened to the public, the perfect space for wandering and perusing your surroundings, inspired by the medieval collections of the museum. Panels throughout the garden explain its ancient symbolic significance.
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