Ancient Glanum

(Okay – I may have gone mad with the camera – this may be a little more detail of ancient Glanum (near Avignon) than most people want: feel free to stop at any time…)

But to start with the killer pic … of the restored imperial temple:


You’ve seen the grand mausoleum and triumphal arch, which was really the back end of town, now you walk up the hill over olive groves that must cover the main residential quarters (the whole town covers almost 99 acres) to the entrance to the archaeological site. You are directed up the hill, the sharply angled limestone spur for a grand view over the city and up to the pass — cut now for the modern road — that gave this location its importance for many years on the trade route to Marseilles.


(That back of the head belongs to a very pleasant man from Marseilles with whom I had a chat that went beyond the usual “are you here on holiday?” to a discussion of the conundrums of the site, including the area that looks very like a theatre but apparently is associated with an aqueduct. And the fact that the “house of Cornelius Sulla” is dated as Gallo-Greek, but the name suggests otherwise. He explained that the Romans had a pretty big place even before the army turned up.)

So, the view down to the city, which splits quite neatly into outside the gates, which has structures mainly dating to the Gallo-Greek period. Key is the shrine of the sacred spring.


On the other side of the gates the surviving structures are mostly Roman, including the partially reconstructed, with reproduction elements, imperial temple and the huge and remarkably well-preserved, basilica.


Coming down the hill, outside of the gates one of the first structure, with these terracotta tiles, is described as a place for drying grapes – well I suppose you couldn’t turn them all into wine.


Then it is the sacred spring….


The spring itself is at the very top of the colline and the water was piped down to this cool dark but today remarkably clean pool, in superb condition. It looked drinkable, but no I didn’t try it.


The spring was of course appropriated by Hercules as healer when the Romans took over _ those altars were dedicated to him


The rampants which held this, the narrow entrance to the city from Marseilles, and not something you’d be wating to storm, are Gallo-Greek, leaning against an even earlier structure.

Walking through that you are meant to be impressed, you weary, footsore traveller, by the grand public area. Dating from the Gallo-Greek period is the assembly hall, a simple open structured with tiered seating, the sides separated by little more than the House of Commons’ two swords’ lengths. This suggests the city was from early days self-governing – oligarchic if not democratic.

Two identically designed temples to the imperial cult, are side by side on the left – a reminder that this autonomy hadn’t, couldn’t, last. They are aligned at slightly odd angles and one about 15% larger. Perhaps the city fathers liked one so much they just created another. The second has been reduced to its foundations, and substantial structures they are- as deep as the platform would have been tall.

The town’s main road – I love these incredibly worn but durable roads, if only they could talk – leads past the basilica, the tallest surviving structure.


Okay – who could resist an image of what it might have looked like…


It is no surprise that the the water god was the most important here, for water was a big problem, both managing it when winter rain rushed off the steep limestone hills surrounding the town and finding enough in the heat of midsummer, when that deep shaded pool from the sacred spring must have been very much the best seat in town. Almost every building seems to have had its own well, so carefully constructed that they survive intact today.

That geography, however, must also have helped to preserve the town, for it must have been buried in the alluvial flows quite quickly, so its existence was forgotten. When Vincent Van Gogh was a patient at the infirmary just down the hill he didn’t know Glanum was here – perhaps luckily for his febrile imagination.

Given the climate, no surprise then that beside the basilica is the sports complex, starting with a swimming pool, its waters refreshed from this spout.


Beside it was an exercise area, with seats for the weary and overheated against the north wall.


Then all the usual range of cold, tepid and hot baths, so familiar from just about every Roman site, their sub-floor structure perfectly designed for archaeological preservation. Their entrance was conveniently on the other side of the road to the best house in town, known today as the house of Antes, double-storied around a courtyard with a central pool. Called ‘of Antes but I can’t help thinking that this must have been home at some stage to those Julii commemorated in the mausoleum.


The quality of the construction is suggested by this fine piece of carving which must, I think, have come from the underside of the internal colonnade.


There’s another mystery just down the road – perhaps in another house, one wall formed by native rock carved smooth and deep niches – a lot more than you would need to say conveniently hold a lamp. Perhaps some religious function? I speculate, like any archaeologist at loss.


There must have been lots of lovely finds here – unfortunately you can’t see any of them, the archaeological museum in St Remy being closed “for security reasons”, with no indication of a reopening date. Which is a shame, since the small detritus of the town would surely have helped to give it an even more human, living human face.

But before you head that way there is something you must see. Turn past the Van Gogh tourist trap – I don’t really feel the need to see his “reconstructed” room – and opposite the nursing home turn up a rough path. That leads to an amazing cave/cavern hewn out of the rock – I assume it was for the ancient town, although there are no signs, so perhaps it was for medieval/early modern St Remy – whatever the case it is a spectacular space to which this photo can scarcely do justice – from top to bottom of the cutting must be at least 30m.



  • February 16, 2007 - 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting these. I love the picture of the water spout…..the carving/face on it is so interesting.

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