MUSEUM of GALLO-ROMAN ARCHAEOLOGY
Saint-Romain-en-Gal (Vienne - FRANCE)
A short visit to the museum in February 2016.
Article written with the help of my eldest son, Brinsley.
For those of you who come especially for the wine (Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu,...) but are equally fond of culture, this museum is worth the detour.
The museum, as seen from the bridge which links Saint-Romain-en-Gal to the town of Vienne (not to be mistaken for Vienna in Austria). The Rhône river marks the "départemental" border. Vienne lies in the Isère Département (a département is an administrative unit). When crossing the river towards Saint-Romain, you enter the Rhône département.
The city of Vienne owns its own museum of History & Archaeology (plus a small but nice "lapidary" museum installed in a romanesque church). They can boast a fairly nice collection of ancient artefacts. However the museum of Saint-Romain-en-Gal, being a "départemental" museum, enjoys a greater budget for the displaying of its collections.
The entrance hall / lobby...
The building is modern, spacious and harmoniously laid out.
Apart from a smaller adjacent room used for temporary exhibitions, the artefacts are all displayed in a large hall resting above the ground on a series of steel pillars - the museum is built along the riverbank - and glass-walled on every side. In the foreground a potter's kiln.
A very nice set of Roman mosaics.
In the foreground the so-called "shield" mosaic renowned for its complex geometric pattern at the center.
A set of scale models and recreated decor will enable you to take a better plunge into our ancient past.
Two dolia. Their inside possibly coated with tar in order to render them waterproof. Test are conducted to determine their content (wine, oil, etc.). They might even have been reused to collect rainwater.
Fresco. A bunch of white grapes. Impossible, unfortunately, to identify the variety.
Fresco. A charming cupid. Or so I believe. Do we detect the shoulder strap of a quiver?
Wild boar. Part of a mosaic at the center of which stands Orpheus, with his lyre. It can be seen as a metaphor for the triumph of culture over barbarity (Orpheus charms his way through the wild world by the sound of his instrument).
Krater. In ancient times it was traditional to mix wine with water (hot or cold). You would use a krater for the purpose. Pure wine was only served to the gods (libations) or drunk by "barbarians" (including the Gauls)...
Partridge, pecking grapes from a bunch.
Crane? Heron? Stork? The line is particularly graceful and elegant.
Nice "design" for an ancient vase. Part of a frieze on a fresco.
This fresco lost its sheen. Yet the shades and tones are still remarkable.
Cooling vase for the wine (and other beverages). Any connoisseur with a little self-respect had to have one. You would fill it with fresh water or snow (compact blocks were stocked in underground ice compartments). Offering icy wine in mid summer was the height of luxury.
Wrestlers. Vienne could boast a very fine gymnasium combined with luxurious baths for its athletes.
You would come and exercise, sweat a good deal, and then you would lounge and laze in the thermal baths.
This fresco was actually decorating the latrines (ie the toilets) attached to the gymnasium...
Part of the famous mosaic entitled "King Lycurgue's punishment".
To make it short, King Lycurgue misbehaved towards Ambrosia, a lovely bacchante (kind of a "groupie", following the God Bacchus in his cortege) who, in order to punish him, turned into a vine and squeezed him to death. Married men would certainly understand the allusion...
Go for a walk across the archaeological site attached to the museum. Take a few steps on an ancient cobblestone road. Roman buildings were actually surrounding you at this very spot. Let your imagination run riot!
"Catonian" wine press. Cato describes it in his treatise on agriculture. This kind of wine press was still in use in the 19th century. This model here is perfectly functional and is regularly used during the "Vinalia" festival which takes place in early Octobre every year.
Wine press with screws. More sophisticated and slightly less ancient. Excellent performance, requiring a much smaller space. The museum organizes family events and holds conferences on a regular basis.
The famous latrines attached to the gymnasium (palestrum).
Not sure it was that comfortable! And so much for privacy! But in those days it was the height of sophistication. Instead of toilet paper you were supposed to use a sponge attached to a wooden stick. You were to dip it in the water which ran in the drain before your feet. Another drain under your seat would constantly flush away its "content" down to the main cloaca (and straight to the river, I supppose).
When leaving the museum, and if you still manage to pluck up the courage, I would suggest you go for a walk along the riverbank.
Christophe Caillaud, médiateur culturel / cultural ombudsman. Wine amateur, fond of archaeology. Head of the Vinalia festival.