Porte Mars (Reims)

The Porte Mars is an ancient Roman triumphal arch in Reims in the Champagne-Ardenne region, in the north of France. It probably dates from the early third century AD and is the largest arch of the Roman world and one of the most impressive Roman monuments north of the Alps. Its name derives from a nearby temple dedicated to the god of war Mars. At the time of its construction, the Porte Mars would have been one of four monumental arches erected as entrances to the Gallo-Roman settlement of Durocortorum.

Coordinates: 49° 15′ 38.2″ N, 4° 1′ 47.8″ E

The Arch, relatively well preserved, stands 32 metres long and 13 metres high but its height must once have been equally impressive with both its attic and the statue group on top. It consists of three arches with eight Corinthian columns surmounted on undecorated plinths, between which are pedimental niches. Above the niches are shield-like medallions –clipei– with high relief heads supported by cupids. The central and largest arch is about 37 feet high.

The arch has many highly detailed carvings on its exterior and on the ceilings of its three passageways. The ceilings of the side arcades are adorned with friezes portraying ancient legends and myths such as Remus and Romulus and Leda and the Swan. The ceiling of the central arch is of most interest. It is decorated with reliefs depicting a harvest calendar and showing scenes of laborers, harvesters, reapers and millers. The seasons and the months of the year are illustrated by agricultural activities. One of the reliefs offers a rare and interesting illustration of a Gallic harvesting machine called a vallus, a reaping machine described by the historian Pliny the Elder in 77 AD (HN 18.72): “on the vast estates in the provinces of Gaul very large frames fitted with teeth at the edge and carried on two wheels are driven through the corn by a donkey pushing from behind; the ears torn off fall into the frame”.

Before the Roman conquest of northern Gaul, Reims, founded circa 80 BC as Durocortōrum  (“round fortress”), served as the capital of the tribe of the Remi, the first Belgic people north of the Matrona river (Marne). In the course of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (58–51 BC), the Remi allied themselves with Rome and the city later became one of the leading cities in the province and the residence of the governor of Belgica. At its height the Gallo-roman city,with its 30 000 inhabitants, was the most populated in the North of the Alps.

Model of Durocortorum in the Musée Saint-Rémi, Reims.
Model of Durocortorum in the Musée Saint-Rémi, Reims.

Reims is most famous for its cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims, formerly the place of coronation of the kings of France. The Frankish king Clovis was baptised by Remi, bishop of Reims on Chritsmas Day 498 AD in a baptistery which is today situated where the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims stands. It is thanks to Clovis’ baptism that Reims became the seat of the coronation of the kings of France.

The Porte Mars was included in the fortification wall of the late Roman Empire and in 1228 in the wall of the castle of the Archbishops and served as a city gate until 1544. In 1854 the buildings around the arch were removed, bringing the arch into full view. Most of the finds from Durocortorum are in the Musée Saint-Rémi.

Dégagement de la porte de Mars, vers 1845-1850. Gravure d'Adrien Dauzats, éditée par Lemercier (Paris). L'arc est encore pris dans le rempart médiéval (BM Reims 22-060).
Dégagement de la porte de Mars, vers 1845-1850.
Gravure d’Adrien Dauzats, éditée par Lemercier (Paris).
L’arc est encore pris dans le rempart médiéval (BM Reims 22-060).

The Porte Mars is currently under restoration. It is completely covered and will remain out of sight until 2017.

PORTFOLIO

The North side of the Porte Mars.
The western end pier of the north side of the arch.
The western end pier of the north side of the arch.
The South side of the Porte Mars.
The South side of the Porte Mars.
The eastern end pier of the north side of the arch. It is decorated with a pedimental niche. clipeus (shield-like disk) with high-relief head supported by cupids.
The eastern end pier of the north side of the arch.
It is decorated with a pedimental niche, a clipeus (shield-like disk) with high-relief head supported by cupids. Above are two crossed caducei (the staffs carried by Mercury) and two further cupids drawing back curtains.
Ceiling of the middle arch of the Porte Mars depicting Remus and Romulus in the presence of the shepherd Faustulus and his wife Acca Laurenti.
Ceiling of the east arcade depicting Remus and Romulus in the presence of the shepherd Faustulus and his wife Acca Laurenti who raised the children.
Ceiling of the west arcade depicting Leda and the Swan.
Ceiling of the west arcade depicting Leda and the Swan.
Ceiling of the central arch decorated with reliefs depicting a harvest calendar and showing scenes of laborers, harvesters, reapers and millers. The seasons and the months of the year are illustrated with agricultural activities.
Drawing (circa 1850): restitution of the motifs of the central vault. At the center perhaps Bacchus; Around: calendar of months and seasons (BM Reims).
Drawing (circa 1850): restitution of the motifs of the central vault. At the center perhaps Bacchus; Around: calendar of months and seasons (BM Reims).
The North side of the Porte Mars.
The North side of the Porte Mars.

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