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Large Roman sanctuary found in northern France

A unique Roman sanctuary discovered during excavations prior to the building of a shopping centre is currently being excavated at Pont-Sainte-Maxence (Oise) in northern France. The large shrine daties to the middle of the 2nd century AD.

Large Roman sanctuary found in northern France
Many of the heads from the frieze are three times lifesize 
[Credit: © Christophe Gaston/Inrap]
Archaeologists, who date the large shrine to the middle of the 2nd century AD, say the discovery was completely unexpected and has no equivalent in Roman Gaul.

The sanctuary building measures 70 m x 105 m and has two small pavilions to the rear, of which only the foundations remain.

Large Roman sanctuary found in northern France
The expressive head of an old woman, associated with a crouching Venus, perhaps 
nspired by a scene in Homer's Odyssey [Credit: © Christophe Gaston/Inrap]
The inner chamber of the temple, or Cella, was accessed by a staircase at the front. This was the heart of the sanctuary where the statue of a deity would have once stood.

The entrance to the sanctuary consisted of a monumental façade more than 10 m high and 70 m long, exceptional dimensions for Roman Gaul.

Large Roman sanctuary found in northern France
Archaeologists are busily studying the pieces in a bid to restore the original appearance 
of the monument [Credit: © Christophe Gaston/Inrap]
This façade is pierced by a series of 13-17 arches, surmounted by an entablature with a frieze of Attica much like the architectural vocabulary of triumphal arches.

The ornamentation, sometimes enhanced by colour, reveals a profusion of carved decoration: Greek meanders, foliage, animals, kantharoi and mythical characters.

Large Roman sanctuary found in northern France
Section of the collapsed entablature [Credit: © Christophe Gaston/Inrap]
A few decades after its erection, the façade evidently collapsed, possibly due to a defect in the foundation.

This has left a tumble of thousands of stone blocks and fragments which the archaeologists are studying studying in a bid to restore the original appearance of the monument.

Large Roman sanctuary found in northern France
Artists reconstruction of part of the temple façade 
[Credit: © Christophe Gaston/Inrap]
The ornately carved frieze presents gods from the Graeco-Roman Pantheon is made up of monumental heads (three times life-size) whose eyes were originally inlaid with coloured stones.

Among them, the head of Jupiter Ammon with ram horns. Other gods and goddesses, as yet undetermined alternate with griffins sitting with outstretched wings.

The work is of a very high technical level and is very similar in style to the temple of Champlieu (Oise).

Source: Inrap [May 28, 2014]
TANN

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