The Crypt In The History Of The Cité
By Coline Duvall
P aris was born on the "Ile de la Cité", at the intersection of a waterway and a roadway. The Seine and its tributaries afforded means of communication by waters, while the substratum yielded stone for building and for plaster.
Lutetia of the Gauls
The Parisii seem to have settled on the island in the middle of the third century B.C. Caesar held an assembly in their town, Lutetia, in the year 53 B.C. In 52, they revolted to the call of Vercingétorix. Caesar’s lieutenant, Labienus, crushed them.
The Roman conquerors established a new town on the hill of the Left Bank. The "Ile de la Cité" seems to have played a secondary role at that time.
The Barbarian Invasions - The Late Roman Empire
The Germanic invasions at the end of the third century A.D. ravaged the Gallo-Roman city. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Paris played an important strategic role. The military emperors who were defending the north and east borders sojourned there: Julian the Apostate in 357-358, then in 359-360, Valentinian in 365 and in 366. It was around the time that Julian in Lutetia, was raised to the rank of Augustus by his soldiers (360 A.D.), that the city began to lose its name and to take on that of Paris.
The capital of Clovis' Realm
It became truly a capital when Clovis, king of Franks (482-511) established the seat of his realm there. His son, Childebert I (511-588), had the great cathedral church of Saint-Etienne built on a plan with five naves, similar to that of the first Saint Peter’s in Rome. The foundations of this edifice, that was 36 metres wide (and thus at least 70 metres long), lie beneath the present-day cathedral and were brought to light during the excavations - in particular, a part of the front.
The Middle Ages
In Carolingian times, the rulers directed their attention to the East and forsook the capital to such an extent that it was the Count of Paris, Eudes, and the ancestor of the Capetians, who defended the city against the Normans. After the very lengthy siege of 885, the suburbs were destroyed and the city was truly reduced to the Ile de la Cité.
In 1163, the Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, began the front of Notre-Dame the old Merovingian cathedral of Saint-Etienne was demolished.
A road leading up on the Parvis and to the center of the front of Notre-Dame - the Rue Neuve Notre-Dame - was laid out; it was essentially the substratum of this road that is shown in the Crypt.
The Parvis up until the Middle of the 18th Century
During the Middle Ages, the Parvis and the rue Neuve Notre-Dame took on the appearance that would characterize them until the middle of the 18th century:
• Along the Seine, between the river and the rue Neuve Notre-Dame, the former Hôtel-Dieu. It communicated with its dependencies on the Left Bank by two bridges and it was bounded to the west by two beautiful edifices (the 15th century chapel of Ste-Agnès, the XVIth century Room of the Legate);
• Its own chapel was situated to the east, near Notre-Dame. A small street and houses separated it from the rue Neuve Notre-Dame.
• To the North, on the Neuve Notre-Dame (towards the present-day buildings of the Hotel-Dieu), there were houses and two churches; Sainte-Geneviève des Ardents (whose foundations can be seen in the Crypt), to the west, and St-Christopher, to the north.
The laying Out of the Parvis in 1750
In the middle of the 18th century, the architect Boffrand was entrusted with the building of a new foundling hospital, on the north side of the rue Neuve Notre-Dame. He slightly increased the size of the Parvis and widened the rue Neuve Notre-Dame towards the north in order to erect his building; In 1772, a great fire ravaged the Hôtel-Dieu : the Sainte-Agnès chapel and the Room of the Legate were destroyed. The hospital buildings along the Seine would be rebuilt.
Haussmann's Parvis and the Present-day Parvis
Haussmann extended it inordinately, and erected both the barracks (today the Police Headquarters), at the end of the place, and the present Hôtel-Dieu alongside it. The Parvis became a lake of asphalt at the end of which the church seemed to be belittled.
The Laying Out of the Parvis (1970)
The construction of the archeological crypt made it possible to give a relief and appearance to the Parvis that evoke its former state.
A change in level marks the western boundary of the Parvis as it was before Boffrand intervened. (From this point, it is possible to appreciate the colossal size of the cathedral towers.)
The area that was formerly taken up by the rue Neuve Notre-Dame is marked by big cobblestones; the line of the fronts that bordered it is indicated by white stones on which the names of their shop signs are inscribed; Finally, a different kind of paving delimits the floor plan of the Merovingian church of Saint-Etienne (except for the fifth nave to the north, whose space corresponds to that of the street).
The Archeological Crypt of the Parvis of Notre-Dame was erected by the City of Paris in order to house the (Gallo-Roman to 19th century) vestiges discovered during the excavations undertaken In 1965 by the "Direction des Antiquités historiques de l'Ile de France". It is the largest structure of this type in the world (total length 118m.; beam length 12 m. The architect André Hernant and the engineers of the city and their collaborators were responsible for it.