French archaeologists have discovered a “little Pompeii” — the remarkably well preserved remains of an entire district of an ancient Roman town south of Lyon.
Villas and public buildings have been unearthed in what Benjamin Clément, the archaeologist leading the dig, described as “undoubtedly the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years.”
Many household objects are still where they were left by residents who fled fires. Some villas date from the 1st century AD and the district is believed to have inhabited for about 300 years until it was abandoned after a series of fires.
Like Pompeii, the ancient Roman site near Naples, much of it was buried under ash which helped to preserve it. “It was the succession of fires that ended up helping to preserve the buildings and artefacts, although of course they drove the inhabitants out,” Mr Clément said. “It’s not just the excellent condition of the remains that makes this site exceptional, it’s also the variety of structures and buildings. This is truly a little Pompeii.”
One villa has been dubbed the Bacchanalian House because its tiled floor depicts a procession of maenads, female followers of Bacchus — the Roman name for the god of wine known to the Ancient Greeks as Dionysus — and satyrs, male companions of the god with goat-like features.
It was lavishly appointed, with marble tiling, extensive gardens, a terrace and a water supply system.
Archaeologists believe it may have been the home of a wealthy merchant, possibly a Phoenician or from another part of the eastern Mediterranean.
The first floor was damaged by fire, which caused it to collapse, but much of the lower structure and even some of the furniture remain intact.
“We’ll be able to restore this house from floor to ceiling, just like in Pompeii or Herculaneum,” Mr Clément said. “We’re incredibly lucky.”
In another villa, an exquisite mosaic shows a bare-bottomed Thalia, muse and patron of comedy, being abducted by lustful Pan, god of the satyrs. It is being restored with other mosaics.
A large public building has also been discovered with a fountain adorned with a statue of Hercules, which Mr Clément believes may have housed a…