French archaeologists have uncovered a remarkably preserved Roman neighbourhood about 30 km south of Lyon, calling it “Little Pompeii”. The French Culture Ministry has labelled it an exceptional find.

The site was discovered on the suburb of Sainte-Colombe of the city of Vienne, on the right bank of the Rhone river, and comprises remains of villas and public buildings. Now remains have been discovered on both banks.  Vienne is famous for its Roman theatre and temple, and it was an important location connecting northern Gaul with the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis in southern France. The city became a Roman colony in c. 47 BC and flourished under the Caesars.

Archaeologist Benjamin Clement who is leading the excavations, said that this is the most exceptional Roman find in 40-50 years. The site was discovered when construction for a housing complex was bound to begin in the area, and it covers about 7,000 square metres.

The houses date to the 1st century AD and were probably inhabited for about 300 years. Then a series of fires led to their abandonment. People left in a hurry, leaving many objects behind in their original place, hence the area is described as a “real little Pompeii in Vienne”.

Some structures have partly survived, such as a luxurious house, called the Bacchanalian House by specialists because it contains a tiled floor depicting a procession of maenads and satyrs. The house included balustrades, marble tiles, gardens and a water supply system. The first floor, roof and balcony of the house were destroyed in a fire, but some parts still survive. Archaeologists think it might have been the home of a wealthy merchant. Archaeologists believe that the house can and will be entirely restored.

At another housing structure, archaeologists discovered an exquisite mosaic with the picture of a half naked Thalia, the muse of comedy, being kidnapped by Pan.

Specialists are now carefully removing the mosaics to take them for restoration, aiming to exhibit them in Vienne’s museum of Gallo-Roman civilisation in about two years.

A large public building, also found at the site, comprises a fountain decorated with a statue of Hercules. It was built where a market used to be. According to specialists, it may have housed a philosophy school.

The excavations started in April and the plan was that they would finish in mid-September, but they have been extended until the end of the year since more discoveries are expected to arise. In the next months archaeologists will examine an area they believe contains workshops.