So, Paris. I haven’t been over there in ages, so it was nice to be there. Loop provided me with the excuse for a trip (*thanks Loop*), but while I was there I was also looking at Roman and Gallo-Roman archaeology and artifacts.
By a rather convenient coincidence, there happened to be a major exhibition on at the Grand Palais while I was there: Moi, Auguste, Empereur de Rome. This expo commemorates the 2000th anniversary of the death of the Princeps and the first de facto emperor, Augustus. The exhibition had previously been shown in Rome, although over 100 works have been added for the Paris version. This anniversary has also prompted the Italian government to begin restoration on Augustus’ tomb on the Campus Martius (I’m choosing to be optimistic about this, but judging by the debacle of Pompeii, perhaps I’m just kidding myself).
The exhibition consists of artefacts selected as indicative of the broad Octavian/Augustan period, from its late Republican and early post-Republican beginnings, including artefacts associated with, or commemorating the period of the Civil War and the Battle of Actium. It takes in artefacts from the newly-Imperial Rome and from around the provinces of the then hugely expanding Empire. It takes as a point of interest the ways in which Augustus used his own image, distributed around the empire, to help to consolidate his rule, and it includes a number of statues and busts of Augustus, including the bronze equestrian statue found at the bottom of the Aegean Sea, and a lovely bronze portrait found at Meroe and now in the BM’s collection.
Anyway, this exhibition was a fairly serious-minded attempt to examine the long Octavian/Augustan period but, if I’m honest, the effect was more like “coo, look at this awesome Emperor and cool stuff!”. It was good though, painted things, shiny stuff, big statues and chunks of Pompeian fresco. Unusually, it was possible to take photos of some, though not all, of the exhibits inside the expo so here’s a little bit of cool Augustan stuff.
This portrait bust of Crassus, from the immediate pre-Augustan period is also especially cool.
Here’s Livia in her role as priestess.
And the man himself, becoming a god.
Slightly less ‘I’m an Emperor, get me out of here’ is the Crypte Archeologique du parvis Notre-Dame. It’s in the square right in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and this below-ground-level space offers a complete contrast to the bustle above. I’ve been here before but not for years, and since then the space has been significantly upgraded. I must say, they’ve done a good job of it, although I’d have preferred it if they’d kept some of the artefacts on display, as this helps to highlight the people in amongst all these buildings.
So what’s here? Well these are the early street levels of the city, from the Roman period, through the medieval and right up to about the late 18th century, complete with foundation and lower wall levels of several townhouses, external streets, internal courtyards, some of the drainage systems, elements of quayside constructions and even the ruins of a cathedral!
Here’s part of the quay. The water would have lapped up against it on the extreme right of the image.
The in-situ remains, together with the very good, detailed information panels trace the story of Paris through its street layouts and buildings and offer a fascinating view into the development of a major city from its very beginning. Below, we can see a medieval cobbled floor (at the front of the picture), in a building overlaying an earlier Roman building (indicated by the stone slab floor at the back).
There’s lots of lovely reused Roman stone, for all you recycling fans, complete with masons marks and old inscriptions. Here, part of a bridge pier is made from reused material.
On this visit I also decided to make a return visit to Musée Carnavalet. Alas this was not to be, as the museum was closed :(. But to keep up the Roman theme, I went over to Les arènes de Lutèce, the Roman amphitheatre near Place Monge.
This amphitheater dates from the early 2nd century and would have been used for entertainments such as mime and pantomime, animal fighting, gymnastics and, sometimes, gladiators.
It’s pretty cool that this is still in use for games. When I was there, it was football.
A short stroll up the road took me to Musee Cluny, which we may think of as largely medieval of course, except for the fact that it’s built on top of a Roman bathing complex, Les Thermes.
This was a huge public bathing complex, built around the early 3rd century, possibly by the local guild of boatmen, the nautes. It is possible to see the original vaulting and a good collection of architectural and decorative fragments.
The best preserved room to visit is the frigidarium; the cold room.
If you’re interested in Roman Paris, there is an excellent site here , where you can find, among other things, a route for a walking tour of the Roman city.
Even for me, Paris is not all Roman stuff. Thanks to late night opening at The Pompidou, I also managed to squeeze in a visit to their Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective. This expo is absolutely giant: 500 pieces! Frankly I think that this is too much but it was intended as a whole career, indeed whole life, retrospective, so I guess it makes sense. But seriously though, 500 pieces!?! I was exhausted.
Nevertheless, it did inspire me to try a few Cartier-Bresson-esque photos of my own.
And finally, as it was Loop who got me here in the first place, here is some gratuitous Loop action from their fantastic gig at Villette Sonique .
This is where they end**. And I am outta here.
*”The Parisii live round about the Sequana River, having an island in the river and a city called Lucotocia” (Strabo, Geography, iv:3:5). You’ll see that I’ve tweaked this quote in a, frankly, shameless way in order to make it a neat heading for this post.
**’This is Where You End’ (Loop, Fade Out, 1988). You’ll see that I’ve tweaked this song title in a, frankly, shameless way in order to make a neat outro for this post.