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West side.
The Maison Carrée is an ancient building in Nîmesmarker, southern Francemarker; it is one of the best preserved temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire.

It was built c. 16 BC, and reconstructed in the following years, by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who was also the original patron of the Pantheonmarker in Romemarker, and was dedicated or rededicated c. 2-4/5 AD to his two sons, Gaius Julius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young. The inscription dedicating the temple to Gaius and Lucius was removed in medieval times. However, a local scholar, Jean-François Séguier, was able to reconstruct the inscription in 1758 from the order and number of the holes in the portico's facade, to which the bronze letters had been affixed by projecting tines. According to Séguier's reconstruction, the text of the dedication read (in translation): "To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth."

The temple owes its preservation to the fact that it was rededicated as a Christian church in the fourth century, saving it from the widespread destruction of temples that followed the adoption of Christianity as Rome's official state religion. It subsequently became a meeting hall for the city's consuls, a canon's house, a stable for government-owned horses during the French Revolution and a storehouse for the city archives. It became a museum after 1823. Its French name derives from the archaic term carré long, literally meaning a "long square", or rectangle - a reference to the building's shape.

Front view.
The Maison Carrée is a perfect example of Vitruvian architecture in its most classic mode. Raised on a 2.85 m high podium, the temple dominated the forum of the Roman city, forming a rectangle almost twice as long as it is wide, measuring 26.42 m by 13.54 m. The façade is dominated by a deep portico or pronaos almost a third of the building's length. It is a hexastyle design with six Corinthian columns under the Pediment at either end, and pseudoperipteral in that twenty engaged columns are embedded along the walls of the cella. Above the columns, the architrave is divided by two recessed rows of petrified water drips into three levels with ratios of 1:2:3. Egg-and-dart decoration divides the architrave from the frieze. The frieze is decorated with fine ornamental relief carvings of rosettes and acanthus leaves beneath a row of very fine dentils.

A large door (6.87 m high by 3.27 m wide) leads to the surprisingly small and windowless interior, where the shrine was originally housed. This is now used to house occasional art exhibitions. No ancient decoration remains inside the cella.

The building has undergone extensive restoration over the centuries. Until the 19th century, it formed part of a larger complex of adjoining buildings. These were demolished when the Maison Carrée housed what is now the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nîmesmarker (from 1821 to 1907), restoring it to the splendid isolation it would have enjoyed in Roman times. The pronaos was restored in the early part of the 19th century when a new ceiling was provided, designed in the Roman style. The present door was made in 1824.

It underwent a further restoration between 1988–1992, during which time it was re-roofed and the square around it was cleared, revealing the outlines of the forum. Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to build a modern art gallery, known as the Carré d'Artmarker, on the far side of the square, to replace the city theater of Nîmes, which had burnt in 1952. This provides a startling contrast to the Maison Carrée but renders many of its features, such as the portico and columns, in steel and glass. The contrast of its modernity is thus muted by the physical resemblance between the two buildings, representing architectural styles 2000 years apart.

The Maison Carrée inspired the neoclassical Église de la Madeleinemarker in Parismarker and in the United States the Virginia State Capitolmarker, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who had a stucco model made of the Maison Carrée while he was minister to France in 1785.

References

  1. The date is based on an unrecorded tour of the province by Augustus in 16 BC. James C. Anderson, Jr., "Anachronism in the Roman Architecture of Gaul: The Date of the Maison Carrée at Nîmes" The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 60.1 (March 2001), pp. 68-79.
  2. Revised dating subsequent to excavations in 1990-91, by Marc Célié, supervising architect to the city of Nîmes (Anderson 2001:75).
  3. Séguier's reconstruction was published in CIL, xii. 3156, and, slightly revised, was confirmed in Robert Amy and Pierre Gros, La Maison Carrée de Nîmes (Paris, 1979), the standard modern comprehensive monograph; anomalies in the reconstructions, which cast doubt on the temple's date and therefore on the chronology of much Gallo-Roman architecture dated by comparisons, are presented in Anderson 2001; Anderson suggests a date for the present rebuilt temple in the first half of the 2nd century AD.
  4. A comparable podium temple of the Augustan period, "strikingly similar in decoration and in proportions" (Anderson 2001:72)still stands at Vienne.
  5. The colonnade is returned at either side, so that beneath the portico there are ten columns in all.
  6. Pierre Pinon, "Le projet de Norman Foster pour la médiathèque de Nîmes face à la Maison Carrée", Archaeology, 1985.
  7. J.-C. Balty, Études sur la maison carrée de Nîmes (Brussels) 1960.


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