Musée de la Romanité

On Thursday I visited the truly stunning new Musée de la Romanité in Nimes. Designed by Elizabeth de Portzamparc, it was opened last year.

The building is as memorable as its contents. Walking across the open space that has been created round the Arènes since the first time I came many years ago, we saw the new, ultra-modern museum sitting beside its Roman neighbour.

I was visiting with my friend, Dessa, and another couple, Andrew and Jane. I did not want to hold them up taking photos, so here is a link to some superb photos (I did not wish to breach copyright by reproducing them here) plus one to a movie clip I took.

I really like it: there is a wonderful, dream-like quality about the rippling glass exterior dressing. Nor do I think it detracts from or competes with the Arènes – on the contrary, it seemed to enhance it and draw one’s eye towards the wonderful old stone arches.

Inside is equally imposing, with a sweeping spiral stair rising up to the main collections on the first floor. The museum is really a dedication to Nimes important past in antiquity, starting with the Iron Age and then tracing its development during Greek as well as Roman times, with even a small but good collection of medieval finds.

There are apparently over 50,000 objects in store of which about 5,000 are on display. Many of them have been found during quite recent building works, including the building of an underground carpark pretty well on the site of the museum! One of my favourite exhibits was a magnificent mosaic floor, discovered in 2006 and painstaking taken apart and rebuilt in the museum.

There could perhaps have been more pedagogic stuff, but there is at least some attempt to introduce you to each section of the museum, in several languages. There is some good use of hi-tech, with interactive touch screens, models, and projections showing the development of Nimes through the centuries, media showing the arrival of Greek and Phonecian ships as well as the Romans, and the routes they all took passing westwards through Nimes. There were good explanations of the various types of – mainly local – stone used in the houses and ornaments.

We were impressed by how well preserved lots of the Greek and Roman stuff was (the medieval statues, in contrast, were more weathered). I’ve never been very good at gazing at glass cases of archaeological remains, but this was different. I have never seen coins, for example, in such a good state. The vases were beautiful, but for me the highlights were the mosaics.

The only ‘bémol’ in the museum’s design was the loos. When we arrived we went to the ones on the first floor – all two (unisex) ones! Maybe the main ones were elsewhere, we thought. But no, at the end of our visit, we discovered there were four loos – two gents, two ladies – on the ground floor. By the afternoon the museum was packed, with several guided tours as well as school groups. How could anyone design a busy, modern building without adequate loo provision ?!

I was not consistent about when I took photos, but here they are:

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