Thursday, January 15, 2009

Théâtres Romains de Fourvière, Lyon

"Ad augusta per angusta." (To high places by narrow roads) - Horace

One truly has to admire the richness of European history; and France is no exception. Where ever I have observed, or explored, there are constant reminders of Roman influence. Whether you admire, despise or have no particular interest in Roman civilisation/expansionism, one has to agree they certainly had style - however eclectic.

Lyon, France is no exception when it comes to absorbing the chronological legacy of the Roman juggernaut which has been permitted to survive.

I cannot describe my initial reaction upon seeing the Antique theatre of Fourvière, Lyon for the first time. I must stress, this is my first contact with any Roman-Greco artefact in situ, other than what I have studied throughout the past decades. Albeit, I was left literally (excuse the pun) speechless!

However, for the benefit of those purists in 'Blogland' I shall add, the Roman theatre (structure) was a direct influence from Hellenistic Greece.

Under the watchful eye of the Fourvière Basilica, this living time capsule returns its stony glare, to remind its descendants of its own greatness. Bunkum?... maybe!

Upon entering the site, the vista before you is one of expanse. The Roman patrons (only those sitting in the dress circle) would have had a stupendous view of Lugdunum (the first name for Lyon given by the Romans) whist watching and listening to those plays by Lucian, Plautus, Novius in the Lyrium (large amphitheatre) or music/singing within the Odeon (small amphitheatre).

You just have to sit, with closed eyes, and indulge in your imagination. Faintly you hear the whisperings; shouts; jeers; heckling, mixed with the onomatopoeic sounds of footfalls. The bartering from the snack-bar in the back area of the theatre, mixed with requests shouted by impatient patrons immersed in their hot baths. Then, a hushed silence, as the acoustics of this masterful Greek design commanded attentiveness. The ingenuity of Roman engineering and design is no less lauded than here at Fourvière.

The amphitheatres are Hellenic; however the infrastructure of adjoining streets, sewerage systems and the incorporation of the flushing and distribution of water via the aqua/viaduct system is very Roman and mind boggling.

The hilled area was not only a theatrical precinct; it was part of the major settlement of Lugdunum, which cascaded towards and across the Saône River into the area of modern Bellecour, Lyon. The view from Bellecour towards Fourvière would have been most impressive, indeed.

The chronology of the site was provided by a myriad of plinths, column segments, stele, epitaphs and announcements in marble. These examples were placed in cordoned areas, and visible to the visitor. There was even a partial pronouncement regarding Caesar Septimus.

This assumption was impressed upon me as I ambled - no, scurried - through the worn flag stoned streets and peering into every nook and cranny! As I hoisted my way towards the summit of the precinct, my effort was rewarded by a magical panorama. As I suggested, the Romans knew how to build with style. However, dear reader, I was yet to once again 'gob-smacked....

When I had reached the summit, (defined by the street where patrons gained entry into the Lyrium) further advancement was prevented by a high fence erected by the museum. This fence separated the existing ruins from what appeared to be excavations taking place. Beyond this boundary lay foundations of additional buildings and exposed underground passages. These passages appear to have been thoroughfares for patrons, to gain access to the amphitheatres from other locations.

Throughout the site lay evidence of exposed viaducts linked as an overall and intricate water conveyance. There was even a water sluice for the dunny, which was indication that both genders had to sit for number 1's!

Folks, I could have spent days here... and I don't know what I am going to do when we arrive at Antalya in Turkey?

I will add one observation, in that it is such a relief to enter museums without having to 'assume the position', bag inspections and the ubiquitous sentinels as in the States!

The museum at Fourvière, (regrettably, photography was not permitted,) was as fascinating and as engrossing as the precinct. Again, time was at a premium so it was absorbing as much as I could in a glance. Immediately, you are made aware of Rome's dedication to expanding the Empire - SPQR - SENATUS POPULESQUE ROMANUS (Senate People Rome).

There were examples of daily life in the form of utensils, funerary artefacts, mosaics and statuary. Architectural styles were also represented in many forms, from the informal to the grotesque; not too dissimilar with modern day interpretations? The floor mosaics, when recovered, conserved and consolidated, are an impressive indictment to Roman life... if one had it to flaunt it! There was even one we could walk over - imagine that - walking the floors that had been trod for thousands of years!

Abundant in the examples of sculpture: Classical and Hellenistic. This is not restricted to the human figure only, also towards sarcophagi and proclamations, such as Bachian and Sapphic celebrations.

I could go on; however, here endeth the lesson. See you in Marseilles!
As a special treat, please take the time to have a look at this video footage - fresh from the old ruins in Lyon! Sorry folks - at 98.5 MB this is too large to add so you will have to wait until I learn how to edit it! Anyone with suggestions, please email me!!

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