Excavation of the amphitheatre quarter in Metz

On line since September 16, 2009 Updated September 16, 2009
Excavations are being conducted next to a Roman amphitheatre at the future Centre-Pompidou-Metz. Provoked by the construction of a shopping mall and a major road, they will continue throughout the month of April. A total of 17,000 m2 will be studied.

The amphitheatre

The amphitheatre, 148 m long and 125 m wide, with around 30,000 seats, is one of the largest of its kind in Gaul. The city constructed it rather early, at the end of the 1st or beginning of the 2nd century AD, at a time when this type of monument was becoming common throughout Gaul. By the end of the 3rd century, it was deserted but had not fallen into ruin. This explains how probable Christian elements, posterior to its construction, could be found in the central pit of the amphitheatre during excavations by a German team in the early 20th century. These discoveries nonetheless do not allow us to confirm the existence of an oratory dedicated to Saint Pierre by Clément, the first bishop of Metz, who, according to legend, occupied the heart of the Roman monument after having drowned the dragon Graouilly in the River Seille.

The birth of a quarter around the amphitheatre

The current excavations have revealed a previously unknown Roman quarter. It is contiguous with the amphitheatre and extends along an east-west road. This road connects to the principal north-south street, roughly preserved today by André-Malraux Avenue. This Gallo-Roman quarter developed during the 2nd to 4th centuries, with several phases of development including the construction of buildings with under floor heating (hypocaust), or decorated with stucco, marble and wall paintings. Some column bases are still in place. After its abandonment in the 4th century, the site was almost completely levelled and building materials were recovered, leaving behind no more than robber trenches.
Study of the objects discovered (whole dishes, pot sherds, glass fragments, bone combs, weaving tools) will contribute to our understanding of the daily lives of the inhabitants of this quarter from the end of the 1st to the 3rd century and allow us to date its architectural evolution. Numerous animal remains (beef, pork, veal, poultry) discovered in large pits give us information about craft activities and the diet of the period. The site environment, particularly the rise of the water table since the Gallo-Roman period, has preserved organic materials, such as the wooden lining of a well, shoe soles, and especially different soil levels that trapped seeds and pollen from the plants consumed at the site.

Evolution of the amphitheatre quarter until the Middle Ages

Several pits that cut late Roman levels have already yielded a rich collection of objects that provide precious information concerning the evolution of this site after the 4th century. The development of craft activities, such as iron working and butchery, is indicated by a large quantity of slag and bone found in the pits. The presence of carefully decorated manufactured objects suggests that the standard of living of the population was rather high. A pot decorated with Early Christian motifs attests to a religious presence at the site, although they do not prove the existence of an oratory dedicated to Saint Pierre in the deserted amphitheatre.
A ditch has been discovered on the southern edge of the amphitheatre. After a short phase of abandonment, the amphitheatre may have been fortified to serve as a refuge for a small community living outside the city walls and looking for protection. During this troubled period at the end of the 3rd century, the city was protected by ramparts. The inhabitants of Divodurum had access to another small theatre within the walls, located on Sainte-Marie Street. The occupation outside the walls continued until the 6th century. From the 7th century, topsoil was brought to the site which was used for cultivation. Market gardening developed and lasted throughout the Middle Ages.

The life of a quarter under the microscope

This is the first time an urban site in Metz, has been studied over such a vast area. Following the excavations, the archaeologists will work to retrace the history of the site through study of the objects found, the walls both standing and robbed, and the road system. The numerous samples taken will be analysed. A parasitological study of the street ditches and the pits will provide new information about living conditions during different periods. The conserved wood will be precisely dated by dendrochronology. Study of the fauna and flora consumed at the site will help understanding of the daily lives of the inhabitants. Studies of pollen (palynology) will give information about plant cover. Charcoal will be carbon 14 dated and analysed to see which species were present. The study of seeds will provide indications about diet and plants cultivated during the 7th to 15th centuries.

A city quarter from the 1st to 18th centuries

In advance of urban development, the results of archaeological excavations make it possible to reconstruct its physiognomy over the centuries. It is already known that the amphitheatre was part of a quarter occupied from the 2nd to the 6th centuries. From the 1st to 3rd centuries, Metz extended over a distance of more than 2 km, from the amphitheatre quarter in the south to Pontiffroy in the north, covering an area of 300 ha. Archaeological excavation and archival research show that the population later took refuge within the city walls. Nonetheless, during the 5th and 6th centuries the amphitheatre was highly important for those outside the city walls. Later, the urban limits were extended, cultivated fields being thereby enclosed. 17th and 18th fortifications integrated these limits by densifying the intra-muros occupation, and the amphitheatre quarter became part of a military zone. This continued to be the case until the construction of the goods station in the 1900's.

Development

ZAC of the Amphitheatre quarter

Principal local authority

CA2M

Urban architecture

ANMA Nicolas Michelin and associates

Landscaping

Paso Doble

Roads and services consultants

OGI

Environmental consultants

Tribu

Developer

SAREMM

Municipal services

CA2M: avenue de la Seille and the collective transport infrastructures (TCSP)
City of Metz: streets and public spaces

Curation

DRAC/Regional Archaeology Service of Lorraine, Pierre Thion

Site director

Franck Gama, Inrap

Area supervisors

Stéphane Alix, Stéphane Augry, Emilie Fiabane, Inrap

Senior Project Manager

Laurent Gébus, Inrap

See images

  • Metz from the 1st to 4th centuries.
    Metz from the 1st to 4th centuries.
    © Inrap
  • Central pit of the amphitheatreGerman excavation of the amphitheatre, 1902-1903
    Central pit of the amphitheatre
    German excavation of the amphitheatre, 1902-1903
    © CA2M
  • Remains of the amphitheatre still visible during the 17th according to a etching by C. Chastillon, 1614.
    Remains of the amphitheatre still visible during the 17th according to a etching by C. Chastillon, 1614.
    © CA2M
  • Plan showing  the dig, future building and the railway station.
    Plan showing the dig, future building and the railway station.
    © Inrap
  • Excavation of a Gallo-Roman wellThe wooden lining at the bottom was preserved by the humid environment
    Excavation of a Gallo-Roman well
    The wooden lining at the bottom was preserved by the humid environment
    © Inrap
  • Sculpted architectural decoration discovered in the backfill of one of the Gallo-Roman cellars
    Sculpted architectural decoration discovered in the backfill of one of the Gallo-Roman cellars
    © Inrap
  • Sculpted head of a bearded man representing Neptune, frequently found on sculpted mausoleums.
    Sculpted head of a bearded man representing Neptune, frequently found on sculpted mausoleums.
    © Inrap
  • Manufactured objects including an oil lamp (15 cm) found on the circulation level sealing the defensive level of the amphitheatre. It is decorated with an Early Christian motif: a chrism (monogram of Christ).
    Manufactured objects including an oil lamp (15 cm) found on the circulation level sealing the defensive level of the amphitheatre. It is decorated with an Early Christian motif: a chrism (monogram of Christ).
    © Inrap
  • Funerary epitaph in marble.
    Funerary epitaph in marble.
    © Inrap