It’s tucked unobtrusively off what’s now the road from Avallon to Auxerre, which was once the Via Agrippa, linking Rome and London (so our guide told us), and doesn’t look much from the outside, but the museum and open site at Escolives-Saint-Camille are well worth a visit (4 euros each – and our guide spoke quite a bit of English).
It was a Roman equivalent of a modern “MacMansion” 4,800 square metres of villa, with a huge (in the third century) private bath complex attached, used as a second home (no graveyard because of that, the guide said, though you have to wonder what happened to the agricultural slaves and the other staff, some of whom must have been permanent.
Most of the villa itself hasn’t been excavated, but the baths have – both the smaller 1st-century ones (which burnt down at the end of the century or so) and the much grander later ones, as well as the smaller women’s baths (where lots of items of jewellery were found) and the lavatory block – with flushing system, i.e. a slave tipping water in some time, with the sewer running off to the river, although at least downstream of the bath intake.
That intake was what no doubt made this a Roman estate agent’s dream – ideal location with its own spring (the source of the Creusot), which was dammed in Roman times for security of supply. The outflow was later used as a mill stream – that building is now the office where you buy your ticket.
The bath boasted all mod cons, including this surviving pane of glass (the like of which I’ve never seen before). It was made on a cylinder then rolled out flat.
Many of the discoveries here are arranged in a museum on site – just a tin shed, but with plenty of treasures and details, and quite well labelled … someone is always losing the keys …
The damp nature of parts of the site meant some amazing survivals, including a 6-metre length of quite well-preserved wall painting – imitation marble. There’s also several leather shoes, displayed in the ticket hall.
The site, or at least the site a little up the hill, was a Merovingian burial ground – there are half a dozen sarcophagi here (the label suggets it would take two skilled works two days to make one), and more modest burials, like this of an infant which reused Roman roof tiles.
Also in the museum is evidence of the long-term occupation of the site – a Neolithic (and quite sophisticated) pot, associated with a burial.
But dominating the museum is a huge collection of very fine, and well-preserved stone carvings, from a 6-metre-high collonade, on which there appears to be differing views – either that they are from a religious shrine, or from public baths. Either way, the structures were demolished by the time the large baths were being built, and used merely as scrap stone for the foundation of these private baths. The small guide says this kind of stone re-use was particularly common in the 3rd century, but usually public buildings would be reused for public purposes, not here for private.
The detail is brilliant – here’s a bird eating grapes:
Here a sense of the fine detail…There are also a number of gods and goddesses in slightly more damaged condition – here’s Rosmerta, Gaullish goddess of fertility and abundance, with her cornucopia. She was often paired with Mercury.
Also here is a memorial to a woman. We don’t know here name, but quite a bit about her – the three layers of her skirt indicates that she was successively a maid, a mother and a grandmother, and the scarf over her shoulder indicates that she was a freed slave.