Do you find history and culture interesting? Then be sure to visit the excavations of a Gallo - Roman settlement near Sanxay during your holiday. Sanxay is a small town on the border of the Vienne and the Deux – Sèvres. Sanxay is located between Poitiers and St. Maixent-L'école, near Les Forges. Sanxay is located in the valley of the river Vonne. Vonne is a tributary of the Claine that flows through Poitiers. On both banks of the river there are monumental remains of a large settlement from the beginning of our era. The site is at least 20 hectares in size and one of the most important sites in this part of France. For that time, the settlement was a decent-sized city with a large number of houses and other buildings. Interestingly this settlement was actually completely outside the then network of important Roman roads. An explanation for why it wasn’t connected to the network is still to be found.
Sanxay, an ancient Gallo – Roman settlement
Unique settlement in western France
The settlement in Sanxay is the largest Gallo-Roman settlement found in western France and new parts of it are still being discovered during the latest excavations. The city was inhabited between the first and fourth century. There was a temple dedicated to the Roman gods Mercury and Apollo in the city which is very popular among pilgrims. There was also a large amphitheater in the city with thousands of seats. Another striking building is the thermal complex which has several bathhouses. You can visit the complex all year round.
Temple of Mercury and Apollo
The most important sanctuary of the city was the temple, which therefore has a preferred position in the city. During this time every effort was made to please the gods in order to obtain protection in return. The temple lies within a peribolos, a wall or partition which was made around a temple in ancient. The temple site has an area of over 4,000m2. The faithful had access to the temple through a monumental staircase. The cella was the most sacred part of the temple, only the priests were allowed in. This is also where the statues of the gods Apollo and Mercury are. The temple in Sanxay is built in an octagon and in the shape of a Greek cross. This is very unique in the Roman world.
The great theatre of Sanxay is built on the south bank of the river Vonne. The large slope was used to build the stairs and the rows of seats against. The central room is in the shape of a circle, surrounded by a wall. The building is similar to classical Gallo-Roman theaters where performances were given but also animal and gladiatorial battles took place. The theatre has room for about 6,500 visitors. Performances still take place there every summer.
Thermal baths with healing water
Sanxay also has thermal baths. The source of the water was under the cella of the temple. The water then flowed to the bathhouses which have been excavated and are still in very good condition. The thermal baths had two floors. The baths were on the top floor, the fireplaces that provided the heating for the baths was on the lower floor. The water most likely had been attributed a medicinal effect seen as this was very common in the Gallic religion. The thermal baths have a mixture of Roman and Gallic features.
Operas in summer
Every summer special evenings, "Soirées Lyriques", are held in the theatre. During these evenings you can watch an opera performance or another type of concert. The atmosphere and setting of Sanxay are particularly suitable for this sort of show. Verdi's opera "Aida", one of the most appreciated operas in the world, was once performed here.
Every year thousands of visitors visit Sanxay. Guided tours take place daily on site. You can also visit the settlement yourself, but tours provide you with much more information and are worthwhile doing.