Cryptoportico of the Forum

Arles - Monument

Date: Late 1st century BC.Time: Antiquity Type: public Architecture of Community status: property of the city of Arles classified as Monument historique (1841) the Unesco World Heritage (1981).The cryptoportico form the bedrock, the invisible part of the forum, the Roman city's central public square. Of the Arles forum itself, little is known of things. There are its development and its decoration than a few elements that to date the beginning of the work a few years after the founding of the colony in 46 BC These foundations are intended to stabilize the vast esplanade on a naturally sloping site. They are presented in the form of three galleries forming a U open to the East. The South Gallery is carved into the rock, while to the North, the terrain is backfilled several meters, which allowed the conservation of remains of the pre-Roman city. The level of current traffic pretty well corresponds to that ancient soil, largely lower than the current level. Only the North Gallery, because the slope of the ground, opened on a square, ancestor of our current place du forum. A fourth Gallery, characterized by the use of brick, reflects probably a restructuring of the forum in late Antiquity. North and South of the cryptoportico galleries measure 90 metres, the West Gallery, which connects them, 60 meters. Their width reaches almost ten metres. The current traffic level is substantially the same as at the time of construction... but some six metres below the level of the current city. Each branch is in fact composed of a double gallery, composed of two parallel barrel vaults, falling on a series of arcades to very low hanger based themselves on rectangular pillars. This great device structure represents an admirable book. The galleries were broken down and lit by the cellar windows. They were accessible only by two service entries which show that they were not accessible to the public in Roman times. It is the Northern, more complex, gallery which opened outward. The two narrow entrances permitting access framed a series of shops. Later it was partially condemned by the construction of the barrel of a small temple which was built on the forum. Although not part of the actual cryptoportico, a fourth Gallery double the North Gallery. Characterized by the use of bricks in the walls and vaults, it was built during a complete restructuring of the city centre in late Antiquity and is located adjoining the old state augusteen stores. HISTORIC building of the cryptoportico provides a large terrace to support the forum, one of the first urban achievements of the new Roman colony founded in 46 BC. However remain in the North Gallery of the walls of the protohistoric period. Apart from the transformations of late Antiquity, which belongs to the history of the forum, the original galleries were not accessible to the public. At the beginning of the 5th century, while the forum began to be despoiled, the cryptoportico were closed to serve as cellars for individuals. In the middle of the Gallery side, southern internal, remain vestiges long considered the traces of a wooden floor. However, a study showed that it was a dump of datable wood at the beginning of the 5th century. At the end of this same Gallery, which is located directly under the Town Hall, one can observe old prisons by the soupireaux. Because of these transformations, the past of the monument long remained an enigma. We live a time of the catacombs. On the occasion of the construction of the Town Hall in the 17th century, there were questions on the Roman origin of the building. In 1737, a fire in the basement of the Church Saint-Lucien, known from the 10th century, reveals a sculpted frieze confirming this assumption. In 1951, the excavation of the galleries will allow updating a deposit of marble containing various fragments of statuary and inscriptions including one to the address of the Emperor Augustus. These discoveries brought the evidence of the real identity of the cryptoportico and the importance of the imperial cult associated with the Roman forum. The cryptoportico, looted and such, access will be totally closed in the 10th century, with the construction of the Church Saint Lucia. Long clearance from cave cellar and the excavation of the galleries will begin in 1935, with particularly fruitful results in 1951 for the formal identification of the building. In 1966, the galleries will be able to be open to the public, from the chapel of the Jesuits, rue Balze, either at the southwest corner of the structure. Today, considering a new path for customers moving home at the end of the southern Gallery, or precisely under the Town Hall.

Information provided by OT Arles

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