Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains

Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains

Narbonne hamlet excavated.

The 8th September 2012 was a great day for the "Friends of the Clos de la Lombarde," (to which I belong) because they won a special prize, due to an initiative from the Banque Populaire for their services to archeology in Narbonne.  My French friend Nicole and myself were invited, along with many associations and dignitaries, to the presentation of the award and then for a tour of the site. 
  Our guide was Raymond Sabrié who discovered the site over 40 years ago and found grants and groups to excavate it.  He was a schoolteacher without archeological qualifications, whose first language was Occitan, but this became his life's work; an amazing man.  He rallied together anyone interested enough to work on the site and one of these was my friend Nicole.
  There were five information panels that well explained the site.
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The house called Les Portiques for its porches, and a close-up of the pool. 
  For myself, I was enchanted by the church.  Built around 350AD, it fell into ruin, with the rest of the site, around 409.  The Vandals were threatening Narbonne, and the people living outside the newly built ramparts of Narbonne, thought they would be safer inside them.  After that, there was an economic crisis, Ataulf the Visigoth arrived in 412 to manage the area on behalf of the Romans; whose Empire started to crumble around this time.  So the church wasn't used for very long.
 Here's the square pool for the whole body baptism of adults, rather as the Baptists do today.  The stone coffins are typical of the 4th century.
 In the body of the church you can see stone benches.  This interested me, because in Jewish synagogues, the people sat around four sides on benches, and the preacher walked around the centre so he could address everyone more directly. The second pictures shows a small altar; offerings were places in the bowl.
 The church was built in what is called a Byzantine style, as was the cathedral in Narbonne and the church to St. Paul Serge in Le Bourg part of town, and the cathedral at Alet-les-Bains.

  Christianity existed side by side with the Roman religion, with its pantheistic interest in many Gods during this life of a farming community from the year 50BC.  In one of the houses, an altar to Tutelle was found.  Tutelle was the God of the Hearth and was more-or-less obligatory in private homes - everyone passed by him when they entered.  An offering might be anything from a handful of fruit to an expensive gift to the house.  (This might explain the modern Languedocian habit of never visiting anyone without taking something.)  Inside the house was also an altar to "Isis Regina" - Queen Isis.  She was a popular Roman Goddess, of Egyptian origin.  A bust of Apollo was found at Clos de la Lombarde, and evidence that Augustus was worshipped; he was made a God after he died and "the imperial cult" became popular across all the Roman Empire.  
  At a more practical level, the quality of Roman engineering was seen everywhere.  This rich site had a good water system and several wells.
 Note the large square briques, which were also used as a base for a pool under a house to hold fish so there was fresh fish to eat. Another pool with its base of Opus Spicatum, small bricks placed on their sides in a herringbone pattern, is most attractive. 
  There was also a heating system, from a hypocaust heated by wood.  This provided hot water for a luxurious suite of thermal baths.

  There were many beautiful floors exposed, with the Opus Spicatum again, mosaics and marble tiling in many colours.
  Many things that are now in the archelogical museum of Narbonne (in the Hôtel de Ville.)  The wall frescos are  particularly impressive.  You can also see jewellery, amphores, pottery, statues, columns, urns, glass vases and small tools, including things like needles.

  Every September, Clos de la Lombarde hold an open day.  We tasted various varieties of Roman wine, plus bread made to a Roman recipe.

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  The wine is made from Roman recipes and is organic - AND not too expensive.

  You could learn how to make mosaics, I was fascinated when it was explained to me how it was done.

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I loved the Venus and the Christ.  Lean away from your screen a bit, to see them better.

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  The mosaic teacher, France Dodin, is well-known in the Narbonne region, and holds classes with the MJC of Narbonne.  (MJC mean "Maison Jeune et Culturelle.")  She runs the "Atelier Mosaique" on Monday afternoons and Saturday mornings. 
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  Then the actors prepared their costumes.  And we watched the humorous sketch they played for us on the new Roman Garden. They were talking in Latin and mentioned the name of the owner of Clos de la Lombarde - Marcus Clodius.  The friends arrived - and Marcus was flirting a bit!

  Then, later that year in October

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  We met as usual in the Salle des Synods for a "conference" to start the celebrations of forty years of excavations at the Narbonne site called Le Clos de La Lombarde.  An amateur archeologist, a schoolteacher called Raymond Sabrie, got permission to excavate the site under the umbrella of a formal archeology group and the work, with the team he collected, never stopped for forty years.

  An incredible man, he was the only one with a dry eye when he gave his speech!  He said:  "When I was young an old Occitan man gave me some advice.  Decide what you want to do with your life and then do it, with all your heart and all your strength.  So that's what I did."

  Then a young lady gave us a talk about the early Christian churches of France.  The one at Clos de la Lombarde was built about 350AD and claims to be the very first, but there are other early Constantine, or Byzantine, churches, so called because they were among the first after Constantine ratified Roman Christianity as the state religion in 325AD.  At the time Gaul was part of the Roman Empire.   
  The stone sepulchres were found beneath the floor of the church; this is where the important people were buried.  There was also a baptismal pool.
 It's known that Christianity was preached in private houses and in the open air and countryside around Narbonne from about 50AD when St. Paul Serge came to the region.  Christianity was one cult among the many Roman and Celtic cults until 325AD, hence there were no church buildings.

  The exhibition was held in the Salle du Pilier, late 15th century, on the left before you go up the steps to the Cathedral of Narbonne.

  As well as the information panels with their pictures of incredible finds, mosaics and frescos, were items reflecting the everyday life of these Roman aristocrats in Roman Narbonne.

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  The reconstructed mosaics and frescoes were the result of hours of painstaking work.  The fragments were collected and reconstructed and can now be seen in the Archeological Museum of Narbonne. People were particularly fascinated by the design of Apollo harnessing his horses before chasing the sun.  Originally, this had been painted as though the viewer was looking through the window of the villa at the scene.

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  The naked god who flew too close to the sun . . .


  I have always been interested in the history of everyday life; here's what the ladies of the day wore.

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  The public came in their hundreds, it was gratifying they were so interested, I spoke to people from all over the world.  The expo was open for three weeks and every other day Nicole and myself went along to lend a hand and to explain the exhibits in several languages.    Well, Narbonne IS the largest town in the department of Aude and it WAS the capital of Roman Gaul for three hundred years.


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