Villa Loupian is just North West of Séte. After somewhat of an adventure getting there (let’s just say Caroline showed me a lot of the French countryside including a lot of vineyards and oyster farms), we arrived at ruins of a gallo-roman villa. This site, was discovered by a fisherman by accident and is now considered a world heritage landmark by UNESCO.
At first, it is believed that this site was a rather modest dwelling. However, around the 5th century, the family that lived there probably made their fortune in Bezier and expanded their house to become the small palace suggested by its ruins.
The first room below is comparable to an office. This is the room in which business was conducted. The lord sat one step up from those who came to see him so he could literally be higher, and thus symbolically more important than them. In the four corners of the room you can still see vestiges of mosaics representing the four seasons. This is a theme repeated throughout the other rooms of the house.
Here, you can see Autumn on top and Winter at the bottom. Autumn is represented with a rabbit, an animal typical of Fall hunting. Winter has a gourd to hold/preserve fall’s harvest.
This room is for receiving guests and also houses the largest mosaic. The tree in the center is a Quince tree which bears fruits similar to apples or pears. It is a tree native to the Middle East that proliferated to countries bordering the Mediterranean. (Fun fact: when I was google-ing the translation from cognassier, which took a while because that is definitely not how I spelled it in my head, I found out that the apple in the Garden of Eden was actually probably a quince.) In the picture, the two half circles to the right and left of the room were where the lord would entertain his guests. I don’t have a good picture of the semi-circular table on the left, but you can still kind of see it below. This table is interesting because people did not sit around it to eat. Instead, they would lay on their left side and eat with their right hands while discussing politics, business, or whatever else they discussed at the dinner table. I can’t say, because I’ve never tried, but I imagine that eating laying down would be tiresome for the neck.
Adjacent to the reception room are three private chambers. Each has a different geometric tessellation. The more complex and varied your floors were, the richer you were in this era. It’s kind of like having nice hardwood floors. The room on the right features hexagons and hickory leaves. On the right you can see squares circumscribed about circles with various plants inside. In most of the mosaics, swastikas that make up the border. Like in many Asian cultures, the repeated swastika symbolizes a life always in motion, always turning, and a long life. In French, unlike in English, there are two different words to distinguish between the Nazi swastika and a religious one. The Nazi symbol is known as la croix gammée whereas all other swastikas are called le swastika.
I geeked out in Nîmes because they had indoor plumbing. Here, they had a heating/ventilation system! Those little holes in the stone circulated warm air throughout the house created by a fire underneath the floor.
I’m not really a history nerd, but there’s something about almost literally standing on history that is ineffable. Being inside this house, you share the same space that someone occupied centuries before and have the chance to imagine a life in a different era. It’s amazing.