Notre Dame is an old building, older if you count its life from the beginning of construction rather than from its completion 200 years later. But even so the history of buildings on that spot, on the Cite island, is much much older than the Cathedral and even than Paris itself. But to learn this history you will need to venture underground and into an area known as the Crypt.
How to Get There:
Getting to the Archeological Crypt is just like getting to Notre Dame, so refer to my Notre Dame Cathedral post
for directions. The entrance to the crypts is at the far end of the plaza, away from the Cathedral. If you are coming from the Cite metro stop then this is the end you will come to first. Look for a stairwell an words in French that are similar to Archeological or Crypt.
Visiting the Crypt is included on the Paris Museum Pass, so if you have that be sure to use it. It also free for students with a student id. Other wise it will cost you 6 euros per adult and 2,50 per child. Be aware that the do close early, around 6:00 most days, so plan accordingly.
What You Will See:
To be honest I don’t know why this area is called the Crypt. That name makes me think I will see a place where dead people were buried, in fact I thought it was going to be part of the burial area of the Cathedral at first. But there are no dead people here, it as actually more awesome than that.
People have lived on the island of Cite in the middle of the River Sine, now also in the center of Paris, for a long, long time. As history moved forward and nations rose and fell the oldest of these settlements were covered up and built over by the new occupants of the island. So when you enter the chambers underneath the Notre Dame plaza you are stepping back in time to some amazingly preserved ruins that sit right under the city.
When you first enter the crypts you will pass through a series of displays on ancient money. One of the best collections in the world is here so it is worth looking at, and if you happen to be into ancient coinage it is probably worth a considerable amount of time.
Further in you will come to the actual ruins themselves. I was pretty surprised that they were just sitting there underground, like a giant model, except actually the real thing. I always find it amazing to walk through the places where people used to live and work. Of course they are underground now, but they weren’t back then. I try to picture what it was like when these buildings were the top layer of the island.
The walk way is set up above most of the ruins so that you can look down in to them. You can walk around the entire thing, and depending on how hot it is outside you might want to read all the signs. The crypts are a good place to cool off if you are in Paris during a warm season.
Depending on the number and quality of ancient ruins you are going to see on your trip to Europe you can decide whether seeing the Archeological Crypts is worth it to you. This will also depend on how much time you have in the Cite area since you will also need to see Notre Dame
, the towers of Notre Dame
, and Sainte Chapelle
while you are in the area.
However, if you are using the Museum Pass and you are here to see the churches anyway then it is certainly worth walking around the crypts even just briefly.