In the middle of the wine riches of the Cote d’Or, with fine dining and expensive vintages being pushed from every angle, and the beauties of the vineyards marching across the valleys and slopes, it’s perhaps not surprising that on an August afternoon my companion and I found ourselves the only people in the museum at Nuits-Saint-Georges.
But it is a bit of a pity, for while it isn’t huge, it has an interesting, nicely contained, story to tell about a significant settlement that grew up in the 1st century BC, and largely died at the end of the 4th century AD, although with a continuing smaller presence (known through the cemetery) in the Merovingian period. The collapse was so complete that its ancient name has been lost and the archaeological site, which first came into evidence in the 19th-century is known as Bolards, after the medieval landowner of the region.
It seems that this was very much a trading town, on the northern edge of the Eduen (Adui) territory, on the routes from Besancon to Lyon and Autun to Geneva.
The prosperity was probably modest, but very real, evidenced by the real quite decently carved gravestones that mark the centrepiece of the exhibition, in an historic cellar.
The gowns and tunics drape really very well, and symbols of their trades, for each figure carries one in each hand – speak of scribes (or perhaps lawyers?) and builders, traders and perhaps priests. There are around 100 recorded from the town’s two cemeteries – small provincial elite.
This is probably the grandest of them – the old man handing over a sack of coins to what may be his son, or might be his wife…
Two are far simpler – were these the poorer citizens with pretensions or those dying at the very start or end of the thriving of this mystery town, when standards were far lower?
At the centre of the town – and no doubt important to its prosperity – was a giant temple, its precincts covering 3,600 square metres, which was no doubt a centre of pilgrimage. It seems to have hedged its bets – having served a number of deities, including these three Gaulish gods (the one on the right three-faced, wearing a head-dress of deer antlers). While just outside its walls were the first temple to Mithras found in France (they’ve since been many more of course), and another to Cybele.
Venus also must have been an object of worship – there’s a lovely collection of small votive statues to her, featuring many different hairstyles: possibly a carver with a sense of adventure, or who was just bored…
The Merovingian section is small but illustrative. There are several burials, which give a very strong sense of the simplified life: one has the essentials, a sword, a beltbuckle (no doubt part of the burial costume), and a small clay offering vessel, like one of these …
Although for the richer glass was still a possibility…
Pottery technology had undoubtedly declined, although this article has an interesting discussion of the quality of metalwork in varying periods.
There’s one example here of what I think of a typical sign of the Merovingians – their sarcophagi: simple but impressive. (There are several in the church in Anost.)
Two practical notes: the museum is near the pedestrianised centre of town, and not particularly well sign-posted. Probably easiest to park in the free parking in that area and head out on the Dijon road. Look for the signs to the Bibliotheque, which is beside it and rather better highlighted. If you want to see the archaeological site itself, there are guided tours doing the Jours de Patromoine in September.