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.

Links:

Musée Les Sources d’Hercule (Deneuvre, France)

Logo_RVB_PhotoshopA unique Gallo-Roman sanctuary of Hercules was discovered by chance in 1974 in a field on the outskirts of the city of Deneuvre (Meurthe-et-Moselle in eastern France) when a local farmer looked for a source of water for his flock. He called on a local dowser, Gilbert Hellé, who advised him on where to start digging. They soon realised that there was more than just a spring under the earth when a Roman column came to light.

This rare spring sanctuary, which has no equivalent in Roman Gaul, is organised around two sources dedicated to Hercules. Indeed, traces of hundred of carved representations of Hercules were unearthed in Deneuvre, making it the largest concentration of such representations in the Roman West. After twelve years of extensive excavations led by Gérard Moitrieux, a dedicated museum was built in the centre of the city. It was designed around a scale re-creation (400m²) of the sanctuary as it was in the middle of the 4th century AD. The museum officially opened its doors in 1996.

The spring sanctuary was established in 150 AD. At this time the sanctuary consisted of only a few wooden basins installed to capture the water sources with a network of pipes. Quickly the sanctuary grew in wealth and at the end of the 2nd century the wood basins were gradually made of stone. It is also at this time that roofs were raised above the basins and that the first stelae carved in the effigy of Hercules were erected. The end of the 2nd century saw the sanctuary reach its heyday after which came alternating periods of almost total abandonment and rebirth. The sanctuary was destroyed around 375 AD, probably by the first Christian community in Deneuvre. The sources were blocked, the statues were destroyed and sometimes mutilated (severed heads, hammered faces).

The re-creation of the sanctuary of Hercules. A path line with Hercules reliefs, presumably paid for by the hopeful pilgrims seeking his support, approached the pools.

At Deneuvre, Hercules is mainly depicted in three different attitudes. Hercules at rest, leaning on his club. Hercules the fighter, brandishing his club behind his head in a threatening way. Finally, Hercules walking, the rarest attitude of the three, with the club on his shoulder. All the statues found in the sanctuary are made of the same stone, the Voltzia Sandstone, a stone quarried locally. They were carved between the end of the reigns of Antoninus Pius (138-160 AD) and Valentinian I (364-375 AD).

Four
Four stelae and one altar dedicated to Hercules. Two stelae show Hercules fighting while two others show Hercules at rest.

The springs were channeled using wooden pipes and organized into three pools; two of these were protected with roofs, each supported by four columns.

pools; two of these were protected with roofs, each supported by four columns
One of the water basins which was protected with a wooden roof supported by four columns.
Stone water basin protected with a wooden roof supported by four columns.
Stone water basin protected with a wooden roof supported by four columns.
The second stone water basin protected with a wooden roof.
The second stone water basin protected with a wooden roof.
3D reconstruction of the sanctuary of Hercules by Damien Vurpillot (Digital archaeology and cultural heritage specialist).
3D reconstruction of the sanctuary of Hercules by Damien Vurpillot (Digital archaeology and cultural heritage specialist).

At Deneuvre, pilgrims were making vows to Hercules. People came seeking a healing cure for their illnesses, success in trade, a good war booty or a good harvest. They came from all over the region and beyond, as far as from the Limes along the Rhine. Archaeological finds show that pilgrims cleansed and purified themselves using pottery bowls before making an offering. 

The re-creation of the sanctuary of Hercules.
The re-creation of the sanctuary of Hercules.
Hercules at rest with Celtic characteristics.
Hercules at rest with Celtic characteristics.

The offerings were not necessarily significant, some coins or a little food could do the trick. They were placed on the altars. Then the pilgrim waited patiently for the vow to be fulfilled. If the wish of the pilgrim was granted, a second gift was offered to the God in gratitude. These gifts could take many forms depending on the wealth of the pilgrim. The richest gave a stone statue, a stela or an altar on which a dedicatory inscription was engraved to give thanks for the request fulfilled. The poorest gave smaller ex-voto like stones or pieces of tiles on which they expressed their thanks. Pilgrims also left offerings of food, white clay figurines, money and jewellery. Votive offerings are attested by the phrase Votum Solvit Libens Merito (“He willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow”),commonly abbreviated to VSLM, which was found on some of the altar’s inscriptions.

Top of stela with dedicatory inscription. DEO HERCVLI/SILVESTER/SATVRNINI/ V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito). To the god Hercules; Silverster, (son of) Saturninus,
Top of stela with dedicatory inscription.
DEO HERCVLI/SILVESTER/SATVRNINI/ V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito).
To the god Hercules; Silvester, (son of) Saturninus, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

The springs of Deneuvre were thought to be sacred and pilgrims purified their bodies with water (however recent chemical analysis have shown that the water had no special mineral properties and was unsafe for human consumption due to its high level of acidity). The water was also used as libation, by pouring out water into the fire on the altar.

The re-creation of the sanctuary of Hercules.
The re-creation of the sanctuary of Hercules.

The village of Deneuvre is rich in archaeological remains and the site of the sanctuary has not yet been fully excavated. Archaeologists are hoping to find a temple dedicated to Jupiter, other religious sanctuaries as well as pottery workshops.

Information

Musée Les Sources d’Hercule
1 Place Jean Marie Keyser
54120 Deneuvre
France

Official website: http://www.museehercule.com/

Opening hours

Closed from 1 November to 28 February.
From 1 May to 30 September: daily from 10 am to 12 am and 2 pm to 6 pm.
From 1 March to 30 April and from 1 to 31 October: weekends, public holidays and school holidays from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Prices

Adult: 3.50 € (2.10 € reduced price)
Groups: all year by appointment (1.50 € for school groups).