One of the most beautiful and well-preserved temples of the Roman world, the Maison Carrée ("Square House") in Nîmes was built around 20 BC by Marcus Agrippa.
History of Maison Carrée
Marcus Agrippa commissioned the Maison Carrée around 19 BC during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The dating is uncertain, but Agrippa is known to have been in Gaul in 19 BC, and he died in 12 BC.
Agrippa's sons Lucius and Gaius Caesar (Augustus' grandsons) were officially adopted by Augustus, making them heirs to the imperial throne. The Maison Carrée was dedicated to these two boys, as part of an effort to promote the new imperial cult. Both boys died young - Gaius at age 16 in 4 BC and Lucius at age 15 in 2 BC - forcing Augustus to name Tiberius as his successor instead.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the temple remained in almost constant use, which ensured its survival. It was used variously as a church, private residence, stables, town hall, and public archives. It became a museum in 1823.
What to See at Maison Carrée
Not only is the Maison Carrée one of the best-preserved temples of the Roman Empire, it is also among the most beautiful and harmonious. It was a major influence during the Classical Revival, inspiring Thomas Jefferson's Virginia State Capitol (1788), La Madeleine in Paris (1806), and many other monumental buildings.
Built of local limestone by architects from Rome, the graceful edifice is elevated on a tall podium nearly 10 feet high and approached by a monumental flight of stairs on the west end. Despite the temple's French name, which means "Square House," the building is actually rectangular - about twice as long (82 feet) as it is wide (40 feet).
The building has a single portico on the west side, consisting of six 33-feet high Corinthian columns, but a symmetrical appearance is maintained with matching engaged columns around the remainder of the building. The architrave above the columns is carved with fine reliefs of rosettes and acanthus leaves.
The bronze dedicatory inscription was removed from the temple in the Middle Ages, but has been reconstructed from the holes in the facade. It read: "To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth."
The cella, a small windowless enclosure made of stone masonry, originally housed the temple's shrine. Today it hosts exhibitions.
Quick Facts on Maison Carrée
|Dedication:||Lucius and Gaius Caesar|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.838245° N, 4.356101° E|
|Address:||1, Place de la Maison Carrée|
|Hours:||mid-Mar to mid-Oct: daily 9am-7pm|
mid-Oct to mid-Mar: daily 10am-5pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Maison Carrée|
- Paul Stirton, Blue Guide Provence and the Cote D'Azur, 2nd ed. (London: A&C Black Publishers Limited, 2003), 131-32.
- Jonathan Glancey, DK Eyewitness Guide to Architecture (New York: DK Publishing, 2006), 108.
- The Square House - official website
- Maison-Carree - Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Augustus - Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa - Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Roman Monuments - Tourist Office of Nîmes
- Maison Carree - Great Buildings Online
- Maison Carrée - Frommers.com
- Maison Carrée - Wikipedia
Map of Maison Carrée, Nimes
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