Saint-Ulrich a Mediterranean model (Dolving, Moselle)

One of the largest villas in eastern Gaul

Construction on the Saint-Ulrich villa, located less than a kilometre from the Roman road between Reims and Strasbourg, started in the second quarter of the 1st century CE. There is no trace of earlier habitation on the site. It was excavated in the late 19th century, and the part of the villa that is visible today was unearthed between 1968 and 1983 by Marcel Lutz. Xavier Lafon (Université de Provence) took over the study of the site in the 1980s. The villa actually stands at the centre of a vast ensemble that stretches across twenty hectares. The central, residential sector is in the form of an east-west rectangle about one hectare in size. We know of some thirty outbuildings that were used for sowing and harvesting the various complementary crops, which may have included vineyards.

The residential sector was given its monumental status in the early 2nd century, with the construction of a peristyle to the west, large baths to the north and a gallery along the façade, which was extended by two wings to the east. Although we are aware that partial modifications were made to this ensemble during the same century, we know little – thanks to the impact of the earliest excavation attempts – of living conditions in Late Antiquity. A Merovingian necropolis attests to an ongoing presence, all the way to the arrival of a monastic structure starting in the 11th century. An architectural creation of Mediterranean design

Two eastern wings give full expression to the residential section, which is organised around two terraces. At the base of the slope to the north, a very large bathing establishment is built around a courtyard with portico– perhaps this was a palaestra. The size of the baths is particularly reminiscent of Saint-Ulrich, with the presence of a miraculous spring in the confines of the convent that succeeded it.

The terrace of the southern sector, which from the start had the appearance of a residence, is supported to the west and north by cryptoporticitopped by a second level of porticos. This organisational principle, which is often found in the Mediterranean world, but is not particularly adapted to northern climates, was quickly abandoned and its galleries filled in. The excavated spaces are primarily reception rooms. The façade of the central, U-shaped section is strictly linear in arrangement, but does not eschew an axial composition that includes a very large public reception room. The other rooms are very symmetrically arranged on either side, with small interior courtyards to facilitate both lighting and movement. The quality of the décor does not match that of the built surfaces. This apparent contradiction begs the question of the use of this complex over time, as well as the length and frequency of the stays by its inhabitants.
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