Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Odeon of Lugdunum

Because the sites of Roman Gaul are in large measure active, vibrant cities there is a tendency for the visible remains to be the substantial public buildings.  An enormous amount of more conventional archeology also exists, but continuous habitation tends to cover up a lot of it, and to over time destroy some.

In visiting the civic edifices of Roman Gaul we shall start out small and work our way up.

This is the Odeon of Lugdunum, modern day Lyon.
An Odeon is a smaller version of the classic Greek or Roman theater, this one held about 3,000 spectators.  It would typically be used for more intimate productions such as musical performances or lectures. They are Greek in origin, and more common in the eastern half of the empire.  I had visited one previously in Alexandria, and Ephesus is said to have a nice specimen.  The Lugdunum Odeon dates to Hadrianic times, and was really only uncovered to view in recent decades.  It is still in use for performances.

It is in great shape, some solid conservation work has been done here.  It has a magnificent view overlooking Lyon, which would not have been the case in Roman times, as there was a wooden backdrop and partial roof to aid acoustics.

This is a surviving bit of the decorated wall that seperated the stage from the front row of seats.
Check out the marble flooring of the stage.  So far as I could tell, this is original.  The different colors of stone were imported from all around the Mediterranean world.  At this point my digging pals from the wilds of Brittania are starting to turn green with envy.  Perservere my friends, you will face sterner challenges in the days ahead!
I can't really call this the view from the cheap seats because the entire second tier of the Odeon was robbed out in ancient/medieval times.

Spend a few quiet minutes here.  You get a very palpable sense of the past being close at hand. 
It is quite possible that several emperors took a seat right in front of where I am standing.  For instance the usurper Clodius Albinus had his headquarters in Lugdunum when he led the legions from Britain over to support his bid for the purple.  That is until Septimus Severus marched north...defeating Clodius at the Battle of Lugdunum in 197 AD.  Clodius' head got sent to Rome, the fate of his other quarters being unremarked upon by history.

For a nice graphic overview of Roman Theaters this The Theaters has been compiled by Whitman college.

Practical tips for a visit. 

This is on a hill magnificently overlooking Lyon and the Rhone valley.  It is a very steep climb, so take the funicular from the metro station below.  You will definitely want to allow time for a visit to the Gallo-Roman museum nearby.  This involves yet more climbing, as the museum has only one entry/exit point way up at the top of things.  Practical shoes are a must.

Next up:  sights to put a tear in the eye of a hard working archeological drudge.

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