We had a very pleasant surprise on reading about The “Treasure of Vix” a few days before our recent foray into France again and discovering it was on our route into Burgundy. The Treasure is a collection of artefacts housed in the Vix Museum at Chatillon-Sur-Seine, and being situated between the end of Champagne and beginning of the Burgundy regions of France it really was a no-brainer for us to spend a couple of hours visiting!
The opening lines of the museum brochure invite you in with a promise of seeing something spectacular and unparalleled from the Iron Age:
“25 centuries ago, a lavishly dressed princess is buried at the bottom of Mount Lassois. Discovered in 1953, the most prestigious princely burial from the end of the first Iron Age (500 BC) reveals a lady lying on a chariot and adorned with precious jewels including a gold torque, a masterpiece of Celtic craftmenship. By her side, the famous bronze vase 1.64 metres in height, a unique and powerful reference of Greek art.”
There are four floors to the museum and several collections each representative of a different aspect of life across the ages in The Pays Chatillonnais including The Gallo Roman, Religious Art, Ornithology, Marshall Marmont Empire and Industry. It was the Gallo Roman we decided to focus on, saving the Marshall Marmont section, especially loads on local ironmaking, for another time.
We arrived in Chatillon on Armistice Day with crowds of observers breaking up and wandering through the town on their way home, and parked in a large public car park opposite the museum. The museum building is the restored Notre Dame Abbey, founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th Century and also having become a hospital after The French Revolution. Like most museums of this type it’s an imposing and interesting building in its own right and you get the feeling of wealth and power as you walk between the large pillars and into the central quadrangle towards the entrance door.
Having paid our entrance fee of a very reasonable €7 each, we immediately took the lift up a couple of levels to that housing The Vix Crater, the large bronze vase used as a wine vessel which is probably the largest wine decanter on the planet and holding around 1000 litres of wine. Thirsty beggars these Gauls!
“The bronze crater/vase was produced by a Laconian (from Sparta) colony in Southern Italy and weighing 208 kg is the largest bronze Greek vessel preserved to this day. On the handles are two Gorgons with a frieze of chariots and warriors between them. It also has a lid/strainer, topped by a statuette of a young girl, and probably acting as a filter any liquid poured into it.”
Mont Lassois is an isolated hill overlooking the Seine valley just 6 kilometres from Chatillon. It was occupied from the Neolithic period but with a peak during the Iron Age as a site along the “tin route” transporting the metal from Cornwall in Britain. Around this entire area thousands of archeological sites have been excavated leading to the discovery of hundreds of tombs in the classic dome shaped tumulus. Especially of some significance was the Vix tomb as it is an example of a Wagon Tomb in which the body of the deceased was placed in a wagon facing forwards, the wagon being a symbol of the sun and the life cycle.
The range of artefacts from this area is extremely varied ranging from bronze urns and bowls to clay pots, from pins and clasps to statues and skeletons. We hope you enjoy the photos below and that they entice and inspire you to visit this museum not too far off the A26 Autoroute south of Reims. They surely show that Roman propaganda was definitely at work branding the Gauls as Barbarians!
Remember too that our post here refers only to the Gallo-Roman artefacts and history, worth a couple of hours on their own, but there is lots to explore about Ironmaking in the area and the huge industrial landscape that used to dominate the scene. Has anyone else been here, we’d enjoy hearing any views as we intend to return for the Ironmaking exhibits next, of significant interest as one of us worked in the UK steel industry for 13 years and we recently visited the historic Coalbrookdale museum in England.