The ancient Roman city of Pompeii, destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 CE, has long fascinated archeologists, historians, and tourists alike. The remains of the city and its inhabitants became covered in ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, allowing us a glimpse into what life was like for ordinary Roman citizens so long ago. Now, a discovery recently made in France may provide us with even more information about Roman life.
Archeologists were excavating a 75,000-square foot site in Sainte-Colombe, where a housing complex is to be built, when they made the discovery. What they found was a well-preserved Roman neighborhood with remains dating from the 1st century CE, so roughly the same age as Pompeii.
Also like Pompeii, the city was preserved because it, too, was buried under ash. In the case of Sainte-Colombe, though, the ash did not come from a volcano. Rather, a succession of fires, which forced the inhabitants out, protected many of the buildings and artefacts that remained.
The larger city of Vienne that is situated nearby, has long been known for its Roman remains, including a theater, ancient roads, and aqueducts. Vienne was an important stop on the route that connected northern and southern Gaul in Roman times. Still, the scale of the finds made in Sainte-Colombe were completely unexpected. It may be the most important excavation of a Roman site in half a century.
Among the buildings that survived, are a large home that is being called the “Bacchanalian House” because of its mosaic floor depicting maenads and satyrs (followers of Bacchus, the god of wine). Though the top floor collapsed in a fire, the ground floor remains mostly intact, and some furnishings even survived. It is believed to have belonged to a wealthy merchant.
A large building with a fountain decorated with a statue of Hercules was also uncovered. The archeologists believe it was a public building of some kind, possibly a philosophical school. Around this building, the remains of the town’s market were also found.
Due to number of important finds, the excavations have been extended by the French government until the end of the year (they were due to end in September). A team of 20 archeologists will dig deeper into the older parts of the site, where they intend to explore an area that was once used for workshops. There are also plans to restore some of the buildings and many of the mosaics that have been uncovered. Members of the public will able to view some of the finds starting in 2019 at the Museum of Saint-Romain-en-Gal.