French dig unearths 'little Pompeii' near Lyon
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.
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.