Roman Museum of Saint-Romain-en-Gal

If you are an old stones enthusiast or an history buff, you would probably enjoy going to Fourviere Hill to admire the Antic Theatre and the nearby Gallo-Roman museum asking yourself what life was like when Lugdunum (Lyon) was the capital of Roman Gaul 2 000 years ago. The Rhone Valley has many other Roman vestiges to visit starting with the archeological site of Saint-Romain-en-Gal located 30km south of Lyon right across from Vienne. 

 

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.

Archeological museum of Saint-Romain-En-Gal, 30km south from Lyon

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.

Mosaics from the Roman times

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.

Saint-Romain en Gal archeological site

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.

In Vienne historical centre, the temple of Auguste and Livie.

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.

The Pyramid is also the name of a nearby luxurious hotel with a two-Michelin-star restaurant, where famous chef Paul Bocuse started to work as an apprentice.

 

Video: discover Vienne in the Gallo-Roman times

 

 

 


More information

Opening Hours: Tuesday through Sunday – 10am-6pm

Price

Fares: 6 Euros (reduced rate: 3 euros).
Free for all the first Sunday of each month and anytime for children under 18 years-old.
English audio guide available for free.
Guided tour: 3 euros.

How to get there

30km south of Lyon.
By car: A7 freeway from Lyon, Exit 9 Vienne.
By train: Vienne Train station (15/20 minutes from Lyon Part Dieu or Lyon Jean Macé),
then walk for 15 minutes towards the museum.

More to read about the Roman Heritage in Lyon

Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilisation

The Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilisation astounds the visitor with its avant-garde architecture and carefully-chosen exhibits, nudging you to uncover more of what Lyon’s Roman, Gaul and Celtic forebears got up to.

What did the Romans ever do for Lyon?

Charles Lodge, a British Romanophile, takes to the streets of Lyon and uncovers the eclectic Roman heritage tucked around almost every corner.

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