Posts Tagged ‘Rhone’

This weekend, the Roman boat which had been on the bed of the Rhone for nearly 2000 years was finally unveiled in Arles; it’s all pieced back together, carefully preserved with resin, and quite magnificent.roman boat  The 31m boat had been sailing down the river with a cargo of 27 tonnes of stone when it sunk in a flood.  (more…)

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The famous bust of Caesar, fished out of the Rhone 5 years ago, and just back from its show at the Louvre, now has a large question mark over its identity.  Is it really Caesar?

Last week there was a conference of archaeologists in Arles on the theme of Roman statuary in France, and the thinking is that the subject could have been either a local noble or even a freed slave.  The only likenesses of Caesar that exist are on coins so it is hard to cross-check; the archaeologists also believe that there was a ‘look’ that sculptors would follow – a fashion almost – that makes it difficult, now, to distinguish one person from another.

One theory is that two years before his death, Caesar passed a law which dictated that all temples and official buildings should have a bust of himself… this self-aggrandising behaviour was one of the reasons for his later assassination. After his death, the bronzes were melted down and the marble busts incinerated.  Locally this would have happened in ovens at Trinquetaille opposite Arles. Waiting in a heap for destruction, the thinking is that various unwanted statues were swept into the river by floods – hence the number which have been recovered.

The debate continues but the archaeologists have agreed that it should henceforth be called ‘le César d’Arles’, archaeology not being an exact science.

The Musée Departemental de l’Arles Antique has lots of statues, amphorae, pottery etc rescued from the river with great little videos of them being pulled out of the muddy river-bed, plus graphics of what the town would have looked like.  It’s very easy to visit – just off the main road with lots of parking.  Check the website for details of their opening times and programmes.

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Over 2000 years ago, a boat loaded with 25 tonnes of stones sank in the Rhone and lay undisturbed 4m down on the river bed.  Divers discovered it during their explorations which uncovered the wonderful head of Caesar exhibited last year.

The 31m long boat lay beneath literally thousands of discarded amphorae and items of pottery – plus more recent additions like an unloaded revolver and an abandoned car.

It was typical of the flat-bottomed barges that the Romans used on rivers throughout Europe and was very well preserved.  The divers found its rudder, ropes, a mast, the sailors’ kitchen complete with oven. 

Carefully, the team winched the boat, in ten sections, up to the surface and it has now been taken to a special lab in Grenoble for restoration.  The wood had to be watered constantly and is now being steeped in resin for 8-12 months. 

In the meantime, the Musee Departmental Arles Antique (much more fun than it sounds) is preparing for its arrival in 2013 – it will be the most complete Roman boat in a museum.  A new wing is being constructed for the boat which will be shown in a realistic setting with over 400 objects taken from the river to illustrate the trade undertaken to and from Arles. I think that this museum does this type of display particularly well.

There’s lots of information on www.arles-antique.cg13.fr.  But I don’t know what happened to that car!


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