Roman villa with lavish marble floor found in Nîmes

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In the south-western part of the forum district of Nemausus (Nîmes), about a hundred metres from the Maison carrée, Inrap is excavating two rich Roman houses from the Late Roman period, one of which has revealed a marble floor in opus sectile, as well as the remains of painted plasterwork.

Roman villa with lavish marble floor found in Nîmes
Opus sectile ‘carpet’ from a reception room in a domus dating from the 1st/ 2nd century AD
[Credit: Charlotte Gleize, Inrap]




In Nîmes, rue Pelloutier, a preventive excavation, carried out by Inrap, was prescribed by the regional archaeology department (Drac Occitanie), within the framework of the real estate programme involving some fifty flats led by the Cogedim group (“Écrin des arts”). The aim of this preventive archaeology operation, which ended on 12 February 2021, is to safeguard, through scientific study, the Roman remains that were identified during a survey carried out previously by the Inrap.

Roman villa with lavish marble floor found in Nîmes
Opus sectile ‘carpet’ from a reception room of a domus dated to the 1st/ 2nd centuries AD
[Credit: Bertrand Houix, Inrap]

The complete plan of the domus goes beyond the limits of the excavation and the plots of the development programme. Nevertheless, one of these two buildings is notable for the presence of a reception room that has been revealed in its entirety. A rare occurrence in the archaeological context of Nîmes, the painted plasterwork adorning the walls of this room was discovered collapsed to the ground. 

Roman villa with lavish marble floor found in Nîmes
The plasterwork and the concrete paving with tesserae and marble decorations reveal
much of the room’s decorative features [Credit: Pascal Druelle, Inrap]




The traces visible on the reverse side of these plasters show that they were initially laid on a wall built of earth and incised in a chevron pattern to ensure that they adhered well. On their painted side, these plasters present a classical decoration with large red panels and black inter-panels containing refined candelabras. This type of composition corresponds to a fashion that was very popular in Roman Gaul in the 1st century AD.

Roman villa with lavish marble floor found in Nîmes
One of the decorative plant motifs in the painted decoration of the reception room
[Credit: Bertrand Houix, Inrap]

The concrete floor combined with the painted plaster has a geometric honeycomb pattern made of black tesserae. In the main axis of the room, this pavement includes a carpet in opus sectile, a Latin term for a floor covering made of marble slabs, assembled here in a checkerboard pattern and which come from different provinces of the Empire. The choice of marble to enrich the decoration leads us to attribute this domus to a prominent figure in the ancient city of Nîmes.

Roman villa with lavish marble floor found in Nîmes
Two rooms of a domus dating from the 1st/ 2nd centuries AD. In one of them, on the left of the picture,
 hypocaust piers were discovered, allowing hot air to circulate under the floor (now gone) that they
 supported. On the right, the floor of the adjacent room shows a geometric honeycomb decoration
made of black tesserae. In the foreground, a large pit from the modern period has cut through
these ancient concrete floors, removing the access that linked the two rooms
[Credit: Charlotte Gleize, Inrap]




Other remains also reflect the level of luxury, such as rooms with underfloor heating systems with hypocaust and heat pipes. In one of the courtyards, there was a basin with a semicircular apse and a white marble lining of the Carrara type. The second courtyard was decorated with plants, some of which were represented by ornamental pots found in situ.

Roman villa with lavish marble floor found in Nîmes
Aerial view of part of the first excavation section [Credit: Pascal Druelle, Inrap]

In this sector, located at a very short distance from the medieval and modern town, the ancient remains have undergone significant alterations (cellars, fuel tank, foundations of 20th century walls, etc.). However, their detailed study will allow us, at the end of the excavation, to understand the organisation of the buildings within this block of houses in ancient Nîmes. A medieval burial site was also discovered. The body, which had been wrapped in a shroud and placed in a supine position, is that of an adolescent. This isolated grave predates a convent established in the district in the 17th century and attached to the Visitandine convent.

Source: Inrap [trsl. TANN; March 05, 2021]

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