So, another short trip to Paris. They’re threatening to take away my EU citizenship AGAIN! so this might be my last visit before I’m cast adrift to become a vassal of the orange horror in the US. But, once again, Johnson and the Cons have fucked it and the shoddily laid ‘plans’ of the ‘Father-of-Lies’ have fallen through (yay!) so, for now, I’m still one of yEU.
As well as trying to catch a couple of exhibitions that were on my list (‘AlUla, marvel of Arabia‘ at Institut du Monde Arabe and ‘Paris – London : Music Migrations‘ at Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration), I also had a scout around for something a little more off the beaten track. I’ve been following a Twitter account called ‘Enlarge Your Paris‘* which is about the Paris that happens in the suburbs and the various outlying areas of the city. The city centre is comprehensively covered by every tourist website going so it’s good to find something that’s a bit different. Via this account, I found out about an exhibition that was going on outside the arrondissement – “Trésors de banlieue“
Near Gabriel Peri metro station on line 13 (the baby blue one) there’s an old market building, the Hall of Gresilles (it’s next door to Théâtre de Gennevilliers), which has been repurposed as an exhibition space, an event space, a community space. The exhibits for this exhibition are displayed in 15 shipping containers and include a range of genres and media.
Here are a few of the pieces that I particularly liked.
There was a display of studies for part of a large-scale interior decorative scheme by Blasco Mentor.
And four examples of protest posters associated with the Mai 68 uprising.
Among the big-hitters present are Chagall
And Fernand Léger.
And the photographer Robert Doisneau.
As well as enjoying the artworks on display, I also really liked the space and how it was being used. It’s a big, cavernous space so it could feel cold and impersonal but I think that they’ve managed to make it fee light and airy instead, and it’s pleasant to roam around in.
I did wonder why there were potted spider plants dotted around the floor space but then I realised that this building suffers from the age-old problem: leaky roof. This is neat way to deal with the water and reduce the frequency with which visitors get dripped on.
This exhibition is on until the end of November so if you’re in Paris, pop over and have a look. It’s free. While you’re in the area, you can also make a visit to the the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestique, the Paris pet cemetery. Have a read of my previous blog post if you want to know about it or, better yet, go and have a look at it.
*Apparently, Enlarge Your Paris has been banned from Facebook because the ‘naughty step’ algorithm thinks it’s offering ‘male enhancement‘!! Random.
I was having a little look at some of my travel photos recently, ones that I haven’t posted online before and I realized that I am strangely fascinated with what I can see out of the plane window. This is slightly weird because, truth be told, flying actually freaks me out a bit, but I’ve found that focusing on the view of sites and landscapes on the ground, distracts my mind, stopping me thinking about crashing down to my death in a ball of red-hot flames.
Anyway, here are a few views from the cheap (economy) seats.
Flying over Lebanon, out of Damascus airport, I loved the ripples and curves made by the ranges of hills and mountains in the Bekaa Valley.
In Algeria, flying is pretty well a necessity. The country is enormous and the country’s history has left it with a legacy of, frankly, unsafe areas. There are still a few places where kidnapping is a very real possibility, making driving dangerous.
The distance from the Ghardaia region back up to Algiers is over 600km so travelling by road is a bit of a schlep. The flight is an hour and the views are spectacular. The landscape starts as golden desert, peppered with towns north of Ghardaia.
As you get further north, the landscape turns to lush green with lakes and reservoirs.
Flight from Ghardaia to Algiers, Barrage Bouroumi, Mahaizia
Flying into Tripoli, on the coastal plain were miles of neatly planted olive groves.
The olive trees look very sparsely planted but this is the only way get a good yield of fruit, as the tree roots need space around then.
Flying out of Keflavik Airport, Iceland, I flew directly over one of the places where I’d spent much of my time on my first visit.
This is Ásbrú, a former NATO base where the festival ‘ATP Iceland’ was held in 2015. It’s all brightly coloured, crinkly-tin shed, like many of the buildings in Iceland. Simple, functional and not especially decorative.I enjoyed the festival, and I enjoyed Iceland too.
And here’s, not the Blue Lagoon spa, but a similar hot water pool.
The heated water is the outflow from the Reykjanes Power Plant nearby.
Flying down to Marseille, I spotted a very exciting looking quarry.
Flying into Frankfurt means flying over the extensive forests that surround it. I was struck by the appearance of the motorways immediately adjacent to the airport.
This is where the Bundesautobahn 5 meets Bundesstraße 43 and the Bundesautobahn 3. Not quite Spaghetti Junction, but a striking intersection nonetheless.
Living, as I do, in Olde London Towne, I generally fly in and out of London airports, mainly Stansted (because it’s the right side of town for me), Heathrow (because it’s on the tube) and City, (because it’s actually IN London, as opposed to being somewhere in a field in a neighbouring county).
This means that sometimes I get to fly up the Thames. This is absolutely my favourite, even though the approach to City is slightly terrifying. The first time that I was actually aware of this, and actually thought about it properly, was when I was flying back from Damascus. I happened to glance out of the window and thought, “that’s Southend Pier!”. And it was.
Since then, every chance I get, I try to spot cool ‘something-on-Thames’ things.
Here is one of the wind farms in the Thames Estuary
and nearby, the Maunsell Forts at Shivering Sands.
This is not the greatest photo because we were in a raging storm at the time, but this is a cluster of six, originally seven, ‘army’ style WW2 anti-aircraft gun emplacements, situated in the Thames Estuary. The seven individual platforms were originally connected by walkways and were arranged as a cluster of six, housing guns and the seventh housing the searchlight.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to get a bit closer to the forts as The Waverley does a couple of trips each autumn.
Further into town, we fly over some very familiar sights. The Thames Barrier
Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich and the O2
Just a super-speedy flying visit, but it was nice to be there all the same. But the trouble with super-speedy flying visits is that, no matter how nice they are, they always leave you wanting more. There’s just not enough time to do everything. I mean, I need to get to Musee Cluny to see the new entrance and walkways around the thermes, and for the winter expo, Naissance De La Sculpture Gothique. There’s also an exhibition at Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Le Crac des Chevaliers. Chroniques d’un rêve de pierre, examining the architectural and political significance of the Syrian crusader castle, Crac des Chevaliers. But, in the end, the short time that I had just had to be spent at the brilliant Institut du Monde Arabe for the exhibition Age-old cities: Virtual trip from Palmyra to Mosul.
The exhibition takes in four ancient and modern cities affected by recent and ongoing conflict, and presents aspects of them as they are, as they were and as they may be in the future. This is not an exhibition of artefacts but of images. Using photographs, films and photogrammetric survey footage, taken using drones (carried out by UNESCO), we get a view of the cities as they are today. The use of drones, in particular, reveals the significant damage, destruction even, of whole swathes of the urban environment, with deserted, bombed-out buildings apparently teetering on the brink of collapse and the still-inhabited areas thick with dust and debris. As I’ve been to three of the places featured in the exhibition, I’ve added in a few photos of mine, taken on my visits. Some of the other photos,which were taken in the exhibition, are a bit blurry, as they’re of moving images.
The exhibition opens with Mosul, a city which I have never visited. On entering the first main exhibition space, I walked into a large-scale panoramic projection of a fly-over of the city as it is now. Now, I’ve seen plenty of drone footage of areas affected by the ongoing conflict but, particularly on a such a large scale, these images of destruction are truly shocking.
Sitting on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite the Assyrian city of Ninevah, and around 400km north of Baghdad, Mosul has existed as a settlement, at this location or hereabouts, for at least 2500 years (Ninevah is far older). Capture by daesh on 10th June 2014 and only retaken by Iraqi forces, after heavy bombardment, on 21st July 2017, Mosul and Mosulis have suffered terribly as a result of the conflict in Iraq, with women and religious minorities particularly badly affected. The city had been known as relatively diverse, with the Iraqi Sunni Muslim majority sharing the city with Assyrians, Kurds, Turkmens, Shabaks, Yazidis, Armenians and Mandeans. Although many of the city’s Jews left for Israel in the 1950s, there was still a significant Christian population until the arrival of daesh in 2014.
One of the specific structures zoomed in on was the al-Nuri Mosque. Famous for its leaning minaret (possibly due to the effects of thermal expansion caused by the sun’s heat), the mosque was the focus of pilgrimage and veneration for 850 years. It was the site at which the daesh leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-declared the (so-called) “caliphate” and the daesh flag was flown from the minaret. The mosque was destroyed during the Battle of Mosul in 2017, although there is some disagreement over whether it was destroyed by daesh or by the forces liberating the city.
Still from drone footage of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul.
There is really very little left of the mosque, just the ruin of the domed central hall and the stump of the famous minaret. All the rest is rubble.
As part of the film, we witnessed the digital ‘reconstruction’ of the site. These images are built up using recent photographs from all angles, often people’s holiday snaps (I actually sent some photos of a site in Syria for exactly this purpose), which are digitally stitched together to create a 3d image.
Still from drone footage of the digital reconstruction of the al-Nuri Mosque, Mosul.
Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken 5th November 2009.
Moving on to Aleppo, again drone footage lays bare the scale of destruction. We tak a fly-over, and through, the ancient souks, part of the ‘Ancient City of Aleppo’ World Heritage Site, now severely damaged,
…and up the ramp to the Citadel.
This really brought back memories of my time there, when it looked very different.
Aleppo Citadel. Photo taken on 5th November 2009.
The walls of the Citadel have clearly sustained damage, and it looked like parts of the interior space had too, although I found it a bit difficult to orient myself in this complex site.
The section on Leptis (Lepcis) Magna was less of an agony for me. Although there has been some illegal digging and looting at the site, local residents, working in militias, have tried to stave off the worst of the lawlessness, and there hasn’t been the kind of occupation or intensive bombardment that we have seen at the other sites showcased.
The images I saw looked pretty similar to the way that it looked when I was there 10 years ago. The ancient structures are partial and the site is, largely, a ruin, albeit a very impressive one, but there weren’t obvious signs of recent extensive damage. Nevertheless, the fly-through of the macellum (marketplace) and the virtual reconstruction of the Severan Basilica was pretty impressive and provided a little respite before the final key site featured, one which I knew I would find hard to witness.
Temple of Bel, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.
When I visited Palmyra, and the modern town Tadmur, in late 2009, it was an impressive, pretty well kept ancient site. The main site itself was open for visitor to wander in and look around and it was possible to wander pretty far, as it’s a very large site.
Some people in my hotel were getting up before dawn to go on a camel ride. I, being less interested in camels, got up at the same time and accompanied them for a little way on foot before heading off into the low hills on my own. These hills are the site of the necropolis of Palmyra and I was fortunate enough to have these evocative tower tombs all to myself in the silent, pink, early morning. *
Several of these tombs were destroyed and/or damaged by daesh in 2014/15.
One of the other notable instances of willful vandalism was the dynamiting of the Temple of Bel (above) and I found myself feeling particularly sad at the images of the theatre and the Temple of Baalshamin, when I found myself standing, virtually, in the rubble of the building.
This was a building in which I had stood, gazing at the beautiful decorative friezes and the carved columns, and thanking my good fortune at having the opportunity to be there.
Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.
Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra. Photo taken 8th November 2009.
But I couldn’t help but think past the structural damage and the willful and shocking destruction of the ancient temples, to the devastation wrought on the people living in the modern Palmyrene town of Tadmur. I couldn’t help thinking about the people murdered by daesh in the theatre, including Palmyra’s Head of Antiquities, Khaled al-Asaad (January 1932 – 18 August 2015).
Throughout the exhibition there are short films, talking heads and personal accounts of the effects of all of this destruction on the people living in these cities but, particularly as a visitor whose French is a bit shaky, the focus of the exhibition really is on the effects of conflict on the built environment.The images recorded by drones are largely devoid of people, the streets thst I remember as bustling and busy with the usual comings and goings of the city, are eerily empty of life.A notable exception is a short film documenting the filmmaker’s return to Aleppo to speak with the people still living there.
He meets the shopkeeper who, despite being surrounded by the dust and debris of countless explosions, still diligently cleans his stock before putting it on display. And there’s the young woman recording a video message on her phone, to send to her sister, who is not in the city.
The young woman doesn’t say anything of any importance, just chats and reads the news and laughs and hopes that she will still be alive tomorrow.
The exhibition ‘Cités millénaires Voyage virtuel de Palmyre à Mossoul‘ is on at the Institut du Monde Arabe until 10th February 2019.
For updates on the current situations in these regions, follow: @AinSyria and @AinIraq
*I had the tombs all to myself except for the small child who chased after me for about half a mile asking for sweets. I had no sweets with me so I gave him a pen. He seemed satisfied with this alternative. I wonder where he is now, and I hope he’s ok.
On a flying visit to Paris I decided to take in a couple of places that I’ve never been. One of those places is a church in the 14th arrondissement. Paris is full of churches, of course, but this one is a bit different.
Ok, it doesn’t look very different. In fact, it looks pretty conventional. But wait till you see inside.
It’s not really a stone building at all. It’s steel frame construction with just an outer cladding of stone.
In the mid-19th century, the population of this Paris district grew rapidly, quickly outgrowing the existing church. These were working people, many working in construction, but also many poor Parisians. Taking advantage of the interest in Paris’ 1900 Universal Exhibition, the parish priest, Father Soulange-Bodin, started a subscription to raise funds for a new parish church and the church that was built, L’eglise Notre Dame du Travail, Our Lady of Labour, was consciously designed, by the architect Jules Astruc, to reflect the lives and livelihoods of so many of its parishioners.
Overtly industrial in its design, the nave is built over a steel and iron framework.
This, in a way, reminds me of Tower Bridge. It’s so deceptive. On the outside it’s all stone, traditional, old-fashioned even, but on the inside it’s all modern (for the time) materials and construction techniques. And the modernity of it, the engineering, isn’t covered up or disguised, but displayed and celebrated.
Some of this was reused metalwork, having previously been used in the construction of the Palais de L’Industrie, which had been built on the Champ de Mars in 1855 for an earlier Universal Exhibition .
Even the artworks inside the church reflect the world work work. Saint Luke, the Evangelist, venerated as a patron saint of artists, physicians, surgeons and butchers; Saint Eloi (Eligius), patron saint of metal-workers and those who work with horses; and Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners.
The church can be found in the 14th arrondissement in the district of Plaisance (nearest metro: Pernety on L 13.
I’ve been looking forward to the snazzy new Roman museum in Nimes for as long as I’ve known it was going to be a thing. It opened in early June so on my latest little trip, to Arles, I made a point of heading to Nimes to take a look.
The French rail company SNCF earned my everlasting enmity by cancelling my train, meaning that I arrived in Nimes a full 2 hours later than I should have, so my time was a bit more restricted than I would have liked and I actually ended up having to charge round the last bit in order to get back to the station in time to catch my train back to Arles (of which, more later).
Anyway, here’s the new Musee de la Romanite in all its glory.
I read that the design, by architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, was, in part inspired by the idea of the fabric of the toga, with ripples and folds of glass panels reflecting the light and the shade, and bringing movement and interest to what could be a boring, bland glass-box exterior.
From the inside, these panels act as frames for the views,
including the highlight view of Nimes’ 20,000 seat Amphitheatre.
I enjoy the visible engineering on the inside (see also the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris).
A the entrance, the museum begins with a spiral up to the pre-Roman Gaul collection.
The museum has lots of small-ish spaces and several bigger spaces and I must admit that I found it a little bit confusing trying to work out which space to go into next in order to follow the galleries more or less chronologically.
Maybe it doesn’t really matter, it’s just that I did have a few “where next?” moments, although these might just have been on account of my eagerness to see the things that I was glimpsing through the entrance-ways between the rooms. I can’t say that that spoiled the visit but I did have to hurry at the end when I discovered that I’d missed out a whole gallery! Luckily it was a small gallery so I just about had time to have a look before running off.
There are a few signs that seem to be par for the course with newly opened exhibition spaces. That sense of things being not quite finished in time for the scheduled opening. Some of the labels were clearly temporary.
There may have been the odd balustrade missing. Certainly, a proper rail would be better than ropes here.
Some of the spaces between furniture are too narrow. I saw a man with a pretty normal-sized pushchair unable to get past a bench. There was an alternative way around but I do think that, in a brand new building, either the gap should be wide enough (for a wheelchair actually) or there should be no gap at all and we all just go the other way. TBH, if they just moved the bench, that’s problem solved.
The staircase down to the lower ground floor temporary exhibition gallery is pretty bleak, like those staircases you have to go down when you’re boarding a flight, grey, lifeless, empty. It could do with a few images or something, to liven it up a bit.
But that’s the niggles out of the way and I think that all of these things are just tweaks to be made as the new museum beds in. Now for some of the cool stuff.
As I said above, I do like the design. It’s modern but not lary or obnoxious. Due to the evil fiends at SNCF, I really didn’t have enough time to investigate all of the spaces; there is a garden somewhere (on the roof?) and the expected cafes and a shop. This isn’t a disaster for me as it gives me more aspects of the museum to discover when I revisit. I will be revisiting.
Some people apparently think that models in museums are cheesy. I am not one of those people. There were models of the landscape, of the city, of individual structures, of types of artefacts.
I like this landscape model onto which the development of the city and its changing layout are projected. It’s not a complicated idea but it really helps to see the Roman city in its landscape context.
Interactive stuff 😀
Museums are, inevitably, full of stuff that must not be touched, but I’m fond of museums that also incorporate some stuff that you can touch to your heart’s delight.
Best one? For me, unsurprisingly, Roman games 😀😀
Click the link and you can see me winning with walnuts. The Nut Game
The museum has a range of films about aspects of the collection and about the conservation of particular objects. My favourite was the one about quarrying 😀, which demonstrated how Roman quarrymen (often slave or convict labour) removed blocks of stone from the quarry face using hand tools and wedges.
There’s a definite emphasis on placing objects and architectural elements into their proper contexts. Where did they come from? Where were they found? Which buildings are they associated with? How were they used? The models and films really help with this, moving the artefacts from being just stuff in display cases to actually being part of everyday life in the Roman town.
Despite being big and expensive-looking, the Musee de la Romanite feels like a local museum. I got the impression that quite a few of the visitors were locals, as I kept hearing exclamations of recognition from people looking at artefacts, particularly in relation to key local landmarks like Maison Carrée and the Temple of Diana. People did seem genuinely interested. There were a lot of people watching that quarrying film, maybe, in part, because it related directly to the restoration of the Maison Carrée.
What else? Oh yeah, artefacts 😀
This post is getting too long so you’ll have to wait until the next one for the artefacts but I’ll just whet your appetite with a few. Suffice it to say that the museum takes in a wide range of object types; building material; pottery; metalwork; statues; glassware; mosaics; the lot.
So, yeah, SNCF.
Having charged round the last bits of the museum and, literally, run to the station, I found that my train back to Arles was delayed by an hour.
*shakes fist and calls down the curses of the gods*.
In my last post, I added a teaser about the Archaeological Museum of Saintes. It’s a tiny little museum, just one room, but the collection is excellent and represents life in Roman Saintes, Mediolanum Santonum, really well.
The items on display include several elements of building material, some just functional, some decorative. On display were several fragments of very nicely painted wall plaster.
Found at the Petites Soeurs des Pauvres, Rue Albin Delage
Head of a Siren, found at the Petites Soeurs des Pauvres, Rue Albin Delage
Swan, found at Rue Daniel-Massiou
There’s also this intriguing lump of decorative plaster. Called opus musivum, it’s a type of decorative mosaic-work used on wall and ceilings. This fragment contains cockle, two kinds of sea-snail and winkle shells, blue glass, yellow-ochre stones and Egyptian blue.
Ceiling in Opus muivum, Second quarter of the 1st century. Found at Les Sables, Saintes.
The presence of this range of decorative options suggests that among the townspeople of Mediolanum Santonum were at least some who were fairly well-off.
The cases at the end of the museum have some very nice examples of pottery and glassware found in Saintes. Again, some of these pieces suggest a population with a reasonable level of disposable income, with beautiful coloured glass, moulded pottery and silveware on display.
Spout of a vase or mortarium in the shape of a grotesque mask.
Alongside this very nice, high quality material is the more ordinary and everyday. I particularly liked the evidence for those who prepared the food and drink.
There’s this iron skillet, used for frying foods.
A wooden spoon, an indispensable kitchen item.
Any, my favourite, matches!
Just a couple more of the very interesting objects on display.
As I have worked on a volunteer project looking at Roman dice and gaming equipment with the Museum of London, I’m always on the lookout unusual examples on my travels. In Saintes I hit the jackpot. There’s this clay marble palette, complete with marbles. The marbles here aren’t particularly spherical or regular, but this does look ‘in progress’ rather than the finished articles.
Among the more ordinary dice there were are also these two unusual ones.
Made from boxwood (l) and beech wood (r), they have attached tenons which may have been used to suspend the dice from a lanyard or thong. Some ordinary dice have been found in contexts which suggest some ritualistic purpose; in burials, is an example, and we suppose that they may have been used as amulets, lucky charms or keepsakes. These examples do point to some sort of amuletic purpose. They may have been worn on a leather thing around someone’s neck for good luck.
There is lots more is this little one-room museum, but outside there’s something else. In an old disused 19th century abattoir just next to the museum is the ‘Lapidaire‘. This is where the Roman stonework, colonnades, building blocks, monumental stonework, capitals and a bit of aqueduct, are kept and displayed.
Unfortunately for me, it was shit when I visited. Fortunately, it’s possible to see into the building through the shutters, so I didn’t miss out altogether. Whatever signage there might be was out of sight so I have no information to impart, just some pretty pictures.
There s clearly some very nice, and substantial, stonework in there. I understand that much of it was found built into the old ramparts, robbed from here and there at a time when protection was of paramount importance. It’s well worth a look, even if that does mean peering through the shutters from outside.
This is a little look at a whirlwind day out in Saintes, with lots and lots of Romans. After an early start from Bordeaux, I arrived in Saintes at about 9am and set about looking for some of the remains of the Roman town, Mediolanum Santonum.
Stage 1: The arch. On its own.
The Arch of Germanicus, dating from 18-19 CE, originally stood at the end of the bridge across the Charente River, marking the entry to the city. Now it’s on its own on a stretch of embankment near the Tourist Information Office.
The inscription tells us about the donor, a wealthy citizen of Mediolanum Santonum by the name of C. Julius Rufus. He seems to have been a pretty important man, locally at least, and the inscription lists his lineage to four generations: ‘Caius Julius Rufus, son of Caius Julius Otuaneunus, grandson of Caius Julius Gedemo, great-grandson of Epotsovirid(i)us’, his position in society: ‘priest of Rome and of Augustus at the altar at Confluens’, and his title: ‘prefect of works’.* He paid for the construction of the arch in honor of the Emperor Tiberius, his son Drusus Julius Caesar, and his adoptive son Germanicus.
Looking rather festive on my visit, the arch we see today is actually a reconstruction. It was dismantled in the 19th century when the old bridge was demolished but later restored in its present location.
Stage 2: The city wall. Mind your step.
As with many Roman cities, the turbulence of the third century prompted the building of additional fortifications and there is a short stretch of the city wall remaining in-situ.
Now, I quite like France, but there’s one thing in particular that I really really hate about France. Dog-shit. There’s dog-shit everywhere. No-one cleans up after their dog. This means that some patches of grass are an absolute minefield (shitfield?), this one included. After weighing up the odds, I decided that I wasn’t going to risk it. The combination of sloping ground, lots of rain making slippery grass and naughty inconsiderate dog owners made this particular patch of grass no-woman’s land (seriously, there was shit everywhere). I stayed up on the pavement and took what pictures I could from there.
But you can still see the large, well-shaped stone blocks that the wall was built from. There are a few bits of reused stone that I can see amongst the rectangular blocks which indicates that by the time the wall was built, older buildings, shrines and memorials were considered expendable.
Stage 3: The amphitheatre. A hidden gem.
Heading up the hill, cross the main road near the bus stops, turn right and then left up a residential street, walk along a bit, turn left and…the surprise of seeing the entrance to an enormous amphitheatre was not at all dulled by the fact that I was actually looking for an enormous amphitheatre.
And it is enormous, originally seating about 12,000-15,000 spectators (although possibly up to 20,000) and with all the features expected of a well appointed 1st century entertainment venue. Built in 40-50 AD, construction began under Tiberius and was completed under Claudius, this is one of the best preserved amphitheatres in France. It’s set in a natural bowl-shaped valley and the seating (cavae) takes advantage of the natural slopes most of the way round.
From the ticket office, you can walk most of the way round the outside where the upper levels of seating would have been. A lot of the original seating had gone and it looks like some of the stonework is actually modern concrete, but it give a good impression of how the seating looked. You can walk up the steps of some of the vomitoria to get the views over the arena.
The two ends of the amphitheatre still have the remains of two striking features. At the east end, the East Gate.
This is the main entrance facing the town and processions (pompa) would make their way up from the town to the amphitheatre, entering through this gate. This is the way by which victorious gladiators would also leave the amphitheatre, hence it’s alternative name, Porta Sanavivaria, ‘the Gate of the Living’.
Opposite the east gate is the dark and slightly intimidating Porta Libitinensis, ‘the Gate of the Dead’. This where the bodies of vanquished gladiators were carried out of the arena.
When I visit some types of Roman site; bathhouses, forums, paved streets and amphitheatres, I’m always on the lookout for the remains of Roman games. Sometimes, etched into the stone paving, you can see gaming boards for such games as ludus duodecim scriptorum and Nine Men’s Morris. I did take the time to look along all the remaining seating, but the only one I found was this not-so-ancient one…
Stage 4: The bathhouse. Just a little bit.
Ten minute’s walk from the amphitheatre, on a corner just outside the cemetery that’s just up the road from the church of St. Vivien are the remains of the Thermal Baths of St Saloine.
These baths dated from the second half of the first century, during a second phase of development in Mediolanum Santonum, and were abandoned as the city contracted in the fourth century. The baths were fed by the aqueduct which brought water from as far away as Font-Morillon (in the village of Fontcouverte).
There isn’t a huge amount of it leftbut it is still possible to identify the caldarium (hot room),
with its retaining wall, with these large niches.
A few other wall lines have also been identified however, most of the building has been destroyed, either used as a quarry or in the later uses of the site, which was converted into a church and cemetery.
Stage 5: The museum. Small but perfectly formed.
Back towards the Arch of Germanicus and, next door to the tourist information office is the Musee Archeologique de Saintes. The entrance fee is included in the ticket price for the amphitheatre. Bargain!
It’s a wee little museum, just one room, but every case is a winner. I was going to post a few images here but there are so many very cool things to share that this post is in danger of becoming an epic, so I’ve decided to add those as a supplementary post. Here’s just a couple to whet your appetite.
So on a Roman level, Saintes was a bit of a success. As well as all these brilliant sites to visit, I also spotted random bits of suspiciously Roman-looking stonework, reused here and there in walls and the like.
I also had the most fantastic cappuccino ever. Not only did it look like a work of Spiderman-influenced art, it also tasted fantastic and wasn’t overly milky. Yum yum, and thank you Thes et Cafes, my recommendation for sustenance and fortification in Saintes.