The Musée de Cluny: from Roman baths to the Lady of the Unicorn

The week-end here in Paris was sunny and crisp. Perfect weather for a long walk, followed by a visit to a museum. I did not feel like the Louvre and decided for the far smaller and more intimate Musée de Cluny, often ignored by tourists. Its official name is Musée National du Moyen-Age-Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, which I find very long and pompous. To me and other Parisians it is simply Cluny.

Lady of the Unicorn Sight

Lady of the Unicorn Sight

It houses beautiful collections of medieval art, in particular the series of six tapestries know as The Lady of the Unicorn. This unique set, a mysterious allegory of the five senses, was the inspiration for author Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel The Lady and the Unicorn and should also be familiar to J. K. Rowling fans. Copies of these tapestries were used to adorn the walls of the Gryffindor common room in the Harry Potter films.

The most astonishing thing about the Cluny Museum is that the entire back of the building used to be the Roman baths of Paris, called Lutetia in Latin. The huge walls remain and are visible from Boulevard Saint-Michel.

That, and the still gorgeous weather, gave me the idea of visiting on Sunday another vestige from Roman times in Paris: Les Arènes de Lutece, the city’s amphitheater. You can still see the grandstands where the spectators used to sit, and the underground cages where the gladiators, wild beasts and those sentenced to die awaited their fate before being pushed into the arena.

But yesterday no blood stained the sandy pit. All I could see were people sunning themselves on the benches, men playing ball and little kids making origami figures out of used metro tickets.

That’s what never ceases to amaze me in Paris: the blend of the old, even the very ancient, with modern life…

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