Photo: Patrick Ageneau

Gladiators and garments along the River Rhône

TEXT: KATE HARVEY | PHOTOS © THE GALLO-ROMAN MUSEUM

30 kilometres south of Lyon, the archeological museum built on the fascinating site of a wealthy Roman settlement presents a new way of unearthing ancient history: from preparing for gladiator battle, to fashioning a garment of your own.

Situated at the crossroads of ancient-Roman Europe along the banks of the River Rhône, Saint Romain-en-Gal is one of the largest sites of its kind in France. The Gallo-Roman Museum, near the French town of Vienne, is constantly finding new ways to revive the Roman spirit from over 2,000 years ago. “We provide a glimpse into what life might have been like,” says Emilie Alonso, museum director. With a backdrop of archeological vestiges, villas and balustrades, the extent of Romanisation is wholly immersive.

Thanks to their developments in the field of ‘experimental’ archeology, the museum can reconstruct areas of daily life: from ceramics and glass to ancient baking techniques. “We bring history to life by collaborating with artisans and scientists, and studying artefacts such as ancient mosaics. Our annual Gallo-Roman reenactments and Vinalia Days allow the museum to exhibit our discoveries to the public and to other institutions in the field,” Emilie explains.

This March and April, a bespoke workshop will also give visitors the opportunity to create an authentic Roman garment like that of their ancestors, using traditional methods of weaving and dyeing fabric with colours from raw materials. “They’ll then be suitably dressed to participate in our coming events!” enthuses Emilie. On the weekend of 10 May 2019, for example, the public can experience the life of a gladiator, with a backdrop of colonnades and archeological wonders. “Such events are led by re-enactors selected for their professionalism,” says Emilie, “and the Gallo-Roman Days attract on average between 5,000 and 9,000 people.”

Wine is similarly a key aspect of the museum. The vineyard has been an integral feature of French heritage for over 27 centuries, and on the last Sunday of September every year, visitors can delve deeper into Roman viticulture. “During our Vinalia event, we draw parallels between the world of wine and ancient gastronomy with that which we have today,” says Emilie. To celebrate the convivial origins of wine, visitors can also see, taste and live the experience of a Roman banquet.

musee-site.rhone.fr/