Europe

French dig unearths 'little Pompeii' near Lyon

An archaeologist works on a mosaic near Vienne, south-eastern France, 31 July Image copyright AFP

The ruins of an ancient Roman neighbourhood of luxury homes and vast public spaces have been found by archaeologists in south-eastern France.

"This is undoubtedly the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years," team leader Benjamin Clément told AFP news agency.

The site in Vienne, near Lyon, was abandoned after fires, leaving a "real little Pompeii", he said.

Vienne, on the River Rhone, is already famous for a Roman theatre and temple.

The city, which became a Roman colony in about 47 BC, flourished under the Caesars.

The new site in modern-day Vienne was discovered during preliminary work to build new housing in the suburb of Sainte-Colombe, on the right bank of the river, but remains have now been uncovered on both banks.

Image copyright AFP

What is so astonishing is the extent of the site, which covers 7,000 sq m (75,000 sq ft), and the diversity and state of preservation of the ruins, Clément says.

Among the ruins are:

  • A collapsed residence dubbed the House of the Bacchanalia because of its floor mosaic depicting a procession of maenads (female followers of Bacchus, the god of wine) and satyrs (mythical creatures half-man, half-goat)
  • A mosaic in another residence depicting a bare-bottomed Thalia, muse and patron of comedy, being kidnapped by a lustful Pan, god of the satyrs
  • A large public building with a fountain adorned by a statue of Hercules, built on the site of a former market

Excavations began in April and are due to continue into December.

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