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Le Collège de France (Paris)

Laurent Guyard


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1The 1994 archaeological research programme carried out in the courtyard of the Collège de France (Paris, Vth arrondisement) to a depth of 2 meters has yielded significant remains of the historic city centre. Situated on the Left Bank, this part of the city was prosperous during the Early Roman Empire, unrecognisable for nearly a thousand years thereafter, but flourished once again with the development of the University Quarter (known today as the Latin Quarter), home of the Collège Royal founded during the Renaissance Period.

2Excavations have revealed only faint traces of occupation during the Augustan Period, for which the extent of town planning remains ill defined. Only the sand and gravel quarry pits which cut into these first remains can be correlated with the development of a town plan at the beginning of our era. The constructions covering these remains are organised perpendicular to the cardo: buildings appear to have been devoted to craft activities (woodworking workshops). These structures, first extended into the insula over space previously used for rubbish pits, were replaced in the middle of the 1st century C.E. by a vast, but architecturally rather basic, public building (a warehouse?). The latter would in turn be supplanted, ca. 80 CE., by the construction of the Eastern Baths, the first public baths in Lutetia, commonly called the Collège de France Baths.

3Of this building, only the floor and rubble layers of the palaestra and a monumental pavement have been discovered. They partially overlaid the remains of a foundry, dated to the beginning of the 3rd century, in which bronze boilers or bathtubs were made. Finds contained in these levels allow us to date several important phases of work inside the monument. A new plan for the monument has been posited, taking into account both older and more recent data.

4At the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 4th century, the Baths were completely dismantled. A butcher’s shop was set up a long the cardo, on the former palaestra. This habitat, comprised of wood and clay structures, continued until the beginning of the 5th century C. E. The resulting stratigraphie sequence, rich in finds, provides otherwise rare evidence for settlement in Paris during the Late Roman period.

5After a hiatus in the course of the 5th century, settlement began again and would continue for most of the Early Medieval period. Remains are contained within an accumulated sediment of several tens of centimetres of "dark earth", examined here in detail for the first time in France using a combination of studies and cross-analyses (excavation work, paleoenvironmental data, finds, The present research has shown that « dark earth » is neither garden soil nor the result of simple dumping, but peripheral occupation zones, here most probably from the area along the rue Saint-Jacques (formerly the cardo), which testify to new ways of life and use of space.

6The 10th and 11th centuries have scarcely left their mark on the site, probably due to slight levelling. Archivai research and excavation work hâve uncovered remains of 13th and 14th century organised house-building, indicated by cellars of adjoining houses, one of which belonged to a group corresponding to the Collège de Cambrai site. The buildings were laid out on plots parcelled in strips. Houses fronted on the Street, their rear courtyards enclosing rubbish pits. In the course of the 15th century, these houses were joined together to enlarge the Collège de Cambrai, which evolved continuously in this period and particularly in the 16th century when, together with the Collège de Tréguier, it housed the Collège Royal. The latter, established in 1529, possessed no buildings of its own.

7The Collège Royal’s original buildings did not appear until after 1610; the initial building programme was not completed until 1774. The extension of the premises continued into the 19th century. Excavations have confirmed the existence of an unfinished construction project, of which only a plan and the foundations remain. In 1834, the establishment was extended as far as the rue Saint-Jacques, following the acceptance of a building project submitted by P.– M. Letarouilly.

8Excavations carried out at the Collège de France have provided a significant number of finds. A study of the Gallo-Roman and Early Medieval pottery from the site has firmly established chronologies, particularly for the Late Roman period. Several pottery assemblages from the 14th century have been studied, as have several groups of 14th and 16th century glassware found in latrine pits. One of these pits, from the Collège de Cambrai, formed the basis for a study of fish-bones providing information concerning certain aspects of the college residents’ diet. Other finds, including stone and metalwork, furnish data on the architecture of the Baths or allow us a glimpse of daily life at the beginning of the Modem period. Of particular interest are school slates dating from the 16th century.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2003

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