Friday, November 11, 2011

St. Remy de Provence-hunting for Roman ruins

St. Remy de Provence-hunting for Roman ruins

When Glanum fell on hard times during the late 3rd century many of the inhabitants seem to have just moved up the road a bit. About a mile away at a road junction was some kind of settlement. I have seen it described as a villa, a road stop or simply “an agglomeration”. Which basically means nobody knows for sure and there have not been any serious excavations. In part this would seem to be due to a general lesser interest level in late Roman activity in Gaul. And of course there is an intact medieval town sitting on top of whatever Roman remains may exist at St. Remy.

The most notable medieval resident of the place was Nostradamus, who in 1503 was born here:

Oh, you can almost see young “Nosty” dreamily staring out the window, concocting those treasure hunting stories that have caused so much mischief ever since!

According to my trusty copy of The Roman Remains of Southern France there are two sites in the central portion of St. Remy where artifacts from Glanum are on display. The first, the Musee des Alpilles seems to be a general purpose museum with some archeology stuff. It is in the Hotel de Montdragon, Place Fevrier if you have time for a visit. Across the square is the Depot Archeologique, housed in the delightfully named Hotel de Sade.

Yet another brief aside. In this context “Hotel” meant not an inn with lodging, but the often ornate “in town” houses of wealthy aristocrats. And yes, the Hotel de Sade was owned by that family if only by a bunch of distant relatives. It now houses a cafe which looks quite nice thank you.

The Depot was supposedly open for hourly tours, but showed no evidence of this being the case. Undeterred I squeezed past some obstacles down a narrow alley to peek at the Roman remains in its courtyard:

Now I started wandering about adjacent streets looking for late Roman work that was not in the guidebook.

Neat stonework below and slap-dash work above. Probably built on a Roman foundation.

I found this rather haunting. With stones always being robbed out and reused it can be hard to tell ancient from recycled, but this looks very much like an older, Roman archway that at some point in time was half walled up. Perhaps the post Roman neighborhood was getting a little rough? Then it got walled off completely, sealing out whatever unpleasantness lurked in the dark alleys of that age.

And another cut down archway. What was going on here? It recalls the arch seen behind the Hotel de Sade, but the larger arch has been chopped into by a smaller arch, a modern door and two windows on different levels of the building!