The Forum's cryptoportices

Historic site and monument
  • Les cryptosportiques

Presentation

The cryptoporticoes form the base, the invisible part of the forum, the central public square of the Roman city. Little is known about the Arles forum itself. Nothing remains of its layout and decoration.
Date: Late 1st century BC
Period : Antiquity
Type : Public architecture of the community
Status: Property of the City of Arles, classified as a historic monument (1841) and a Unesco World Heritage Site (1981).

These foundations are intended to stabilise the vast esplanade on a naturally sloping ground. They are in the form of three galleries forming a U shape open to the east. The southern gallery is dug into the rock, while to the north the ground is filled in by several metres, which has allowed the remains of the pre-Roman city to be preserved. The current circulation level corresponds fairly well to that of the ancient ground, which is much lower than the current level. Only the northern gallery, due to the slope of the ground, opened onto a square, the forerunner of our current forum square. A fourth gallery, characterised by the use of bricks, probably testifies to a restructuring of the forum in late antiquity.
The north and south galleries of the cryptoporticos are 90 metres long, the west gallery, which connects them, is 60 metres long. Their width is almost ten metres. The current traffic level is approximately the same as at the time of construction...but some six metres below the level of the present city. Each branch is in fact composed of a double gallery, made up of two parallel barrel vaults, falling on a series of arches with a very low arch, themselves resting on rectangular pillars. This large-scale structure is an admirable work. The galleries were ventilated and lit by window wells. They were only accessible through two service entrances, which shows that they were not accessible to the public in Roman times. The more complex north gallery opened outwards. The two narrow entrances that gave access to it framed a series of shops. Later it was partially condemned by the construction of the substructures of a small temple that was built on the forum. Although not part of the cryptoporticus proper, a fourth gallery doubles the north gallery. Characterised by the use of bricks in the walls and vaults, it was built during a complete restructuring of the city centre in Late Antiquity and is located next to the old shops of the Augustan state.

HISTORY
The construction of the cryptoporticoes provided a vast terrace to support the forum, one of the first urban achievements of the new Roman colony founded in 46 BC. However, in the northern gallery, walls from the protohistoric period remain. Apart from the transformations in late antiquity, which are part of the history of the forum, the original galleries were not accessible to the public. At the beginning of the 5th century, as the forum began to be plundered, the cryptoporticoes were partitioned off to serve as cellars for private individuals. In the middle of the south gallery, on the inner side, there are remains that were long considered to be the traces of a wooden floor. However, a study has shown that this was a wooden dumping ground dating from the beginning of the 5th century. At the end of the same gallery, which is located directly under the town hall, one can observe former prisons by the soupireaux. Because of these transformations, the past of the monument remained an enigma for a long time. For a time, it was thought to be a catacomb. During the construction of the town hall in the 17th century, questions were raised about the Roman origin of the building. In 1737, a fire in the basement of the Saint-Lucian church, known since the 10th century, revealed a sculpted frieze that confirmed this hypothesis. In 1951, the clearing of the galleries brought to light a marble deposit containing various fragments of statuary and inscriptions, one of which was addressed to the Emperor Augustus. These discoveries provided proof of the real identity of the cryptoporticoes and of the importance of the imperial cult linked to the Roman forum.
Access to the cryptoporticoes, which had been plundered and parcelled out, was completely closed in the 10th century, with the construction of the church of Saint Lucian. The long excavation of cellar after cellar and the excavation of the galleries began in 1935, with particularly fruitful results in 1951 allowing the formal identification of the building. In 1966, the galleries could be opened to the public from the Jesuit chapel in rue Balze, at the south-west corner of the structure. Today, a new pathway allows access from the end of the southern gallery, precisely under the town hall.
Accessible for disabled
Opening period (s)From 01/03 to 30/04, daily between 9 am and 6 pm.

From 01/05 to 30/09, daily between 9 am and 7 pm.
Closed exceptionally on May 1st.

From 01/10 to 31/10, daily between 9 am and 6 pm.

From 02/11 to 28/02, daily between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm.
Closed exceptionally on January 1st and December 25th.
Last entry 16h.
General information
  • Parking :
    • Parking nearby
  • Environments :
    • Town location
  • Style :
    • Ancient
Contact
The Forum's cryptoportices
Hôtel de ville
Place De la République
13200
Arles
mail / message
Phone : +33 4 90 18 41 20
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Tarifs

Admission: from 3.6€ to 4.5€.
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Les cryptoportiques du Forum
Hôtel de ville
Place De la République
13200
Arles
GPS coordinates
Latitude : 43.676371
Longitude : 4.627613