Secret places are the best. Even if they’re not really all that secret. Anything that takes just a little more effort to go beyond the ordinary is just better. It just is.
So, I find myself in Arlon, in the Luxemburg region of Belgian, hurrying to an appointment with a nice lady called Suzette, who is from the tourist office. Hurrying because the bus took ages and my legendarily terrible sense of direction has lead me round in circles trying to find the office. All’s well that ends well though, and having met Suzette, we set off to have a look at the ‘not really hidden but you need someone with the key’ history of Arlon.
The first of two sights on the ‘hidden’ list is one of the towers of the Roman city wall, known as Tour Jupiter. This was discovered when the owner of the house on the site was doing some works and stumbled across it. Excavations were carried out in 1948.
It consists of part of the wall and tower built in the late third-century.
The wall seems to have been built in response to incursions by hostile Germanic neighbours, and the tombs and funerary monuments of earlier townspeople were fair game as building material (as is so often the way). This has lead to the survival and recovery of many pieces of carved stonework, some of them very fine and in great condition. Many of the pieces have been removed to the local museum (more of which later) but some pieces proved impossible to remove without compromising the stability of the wall. This is where it gets really good.
I’m already underground, but in order to see a couple of the best bits, I had to go further, down the ladder to the level of the wall foundations and actually crawl into a small space under the wall (I can literally feel your envy right now 😀 ).
The view under the wall. A bit wobbly as I had my mobile (with torch) in one hand and camera in the other, whilst trying to crawl under a wall!
And here are two of the nicest carved pieces.
The ‘Neptune stone’ with the god in profile, with a billowing robe and his tell-tale trident.
Medusa the Gorgon, here with long flowing locks as well as snakes.
The second tower, Tour Jupiter, is, as so often seems to be the case these days, in a car park.
During the construction of a new home for elderly residents in 2009, this section of wall with its tower was unearthed. The decision was taken to preserve it in-situ and it can be seen at any time through the glass doors.
If you know someone with the key, you get a better view.
Again, earlier Roman gravestones and altars have been co-opted as foundation stones. A little bit if ferreting turns up this carved hand, with, possible a face on the other face of the block.
This Jupiter stone was also turned up in the foundations. Here, the god is depicted in the form of Jupiter Caelus, the sky god.
This carving was originally painted, and there are still traces of a red pigment visible.
After seeing the towers, Suzette showed my several other sites and features of Arlon but, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to stick to Roman Arlon and skip forward to the town’s museum, The Archaeological Institute of Luxembourg.
The museum contains the single example of an inscription bearing the Roman name of the town, Orolaunum Vicus.
This museum is also home to an impressive collection of the many stone altars and funerary monuments found in Arlon. Here is a small selection.
After the museum, I walked down to have a look at the remains of the 4th century bathhouse.
This site is gated but free to access, and has been the site for the Roman bathhouse, and for an early basilica in the 5th century, and was used as a cemetery site until the 19th century.
It’s quite overgrown but you can see some of the walls and there is an information board to help to make sense of the site.
There is also a cover-building with the remains of the bathhouse.
If you happen to be in Luxembourg (the country) or southern Belgium, Arlon is really well worth a visit. Contact the Tourist Office in advance about visiting the Roman Towers – firstname.lastname@example.org . They’re very helpful.
There is a very useful tourism website here: http://www.arlon-tourisme.be/uk_region.php?variable=arlon%7CRegion%7CArlon%7Cuk