The 7-ha archeological site was part of a giant residential district with ruins of luxurious properties that looked like small palaces with colonnade gardens, basins and water jets. You can see a model of the 3000m² “Gods of Oceans” house inside the museum of Saint-Romain-en-Gal.
The largest roman house ever found in Gaul, built around 160 AD. Several rooms have been reconstituted. You admire magnificent mosaics, marble soils and painted walls. A Rome-style luxury with baths and roads made of granite slabs illustrating the early romanization of Vienne.
A small Pompei
Another roman neighborhood has unintentionally been uncovered in July 2017 in the nearby town of Sainte-Colombe where field inspections were being made prior to the construction of a housing project.
Archeologists describe the findings as a “small Pompeii” as the district was abandoned after multiple fires occurred allowing many objects to be preserved.
More remains of luxury homes have also been found including about twenty mosaics. The most significant roman excavation in a 40 to 50-year period.
Wine, a Lucrative Trade
These beautiful castle-like houses were owned by wealthy merchants who made a fortune out of trade. As you walk through the museum, you see amphoras and barrels which transported Italian and Greek wines, dolium (1000-liter earthenware vase or container) and coolers.
There are also painted backgrounds with representations of partridges pecking on a bunch of grapes not to mention a large mosaic from the late 2nd century depicting the punishment of Lycurgus.
You see the King of Thrace cutting vine plants with an axe as he banned wine culture. Bacchus, God of wine, Lycurgus’ s best enemy, blinded and choked him with vines as revenge.
Another part of the mosaic shows Bacchus having a banquet. Banquets were very popular though Romans, unlike “barbarian” Gauls (French ancestors), mixed wine with water…
The mosaic was found in the early 1900s in the neighboring town of Sainte-Colombe where excavations are underway.
Tasting Roman Wines
In 2004, an antic cellar has been re-created in the archeological site with two twin-screw wine presses. The old machine is used once a year during Vinalia: a festival occurring at the end of the summer to celebrate antic traditions.
Visitors taste food and wine from the Roman era and learn more about the old winemaking process. It may not be as good as a Côte-Rôtie or a Saint-Joseph but it’s a reminder that Romans were the first to plant hillside vines in the Northern Rhone Valley. The 2017 celebration of Vinalia takes place on September 24.
Vienne, a Powerful Economic crossroad
Wines along with other common goods like olive oil and cereals were stored in warehouses found in Saint-Romain-en-Gal following a series of archeological digs in the 1980s.
You can look at the model in the museum. It was the biggest warehouse of the Empire after Rome harbor depot in Ostie outlining the importance of Vienne as a key strategic economic crossroad between the Rhone, the Alps and the rest of Gaul provinces.
There is a lot more vestiges to see in Vienne old town: the temple of Auguste and Livie surrounded by bars and restaurants, the theatre, one of the biggest of the Roman era, where concerts are held during the Jazz festival, the archeological Cybèle garden not to mention the Pyramid, last remain of a roman circus that could welcome up to 20,000 spectators to watch chariot races.
Video: discover Vienne in the Gallo-Roman times