The Roman Wall of Senlis
Augustomagus (Roman Senlis), capital of the prosperous Roman civitas of Silvanectium, was located at the intersection of three major roads leading to Paris, Britanny, and the Rhine frontier. Fortified walls enclosing the city were built during 3rd century Frankish invasions. Measuring 840 m in circumference and nearly 7 m in height, the wall was comparable to the still larger ones of Beauvais (10 m), Soissons (12 m), and Amiens (20 m). The wall at Senlis (figs.1,2) originally contained twenty-six towers, fifteen of which are extant today, as well as two gates (porte de Paris and porte de Reims) allowing entry into the city.
[Fig.1: Gallo Roman Wall at Senlis (photo: Athena Review)].
While defensive walls were constructed at dozens of Gallo-Roman cities during this era, the walls at Senlis (figs.1,2) were remarkably long lived, remaining in use for a millennium, and modified and repaired through the 13th century. Built in only two years due to a state of emergency, the wall was made of cut stones taken from some of the town's civic and religious buildings. Evidence for this reuse of 2nd and 3rd century building materials has been discovered in the basement of the old Episcopal Palace (now the city museum). Wall foundations consisted of three or four layers of recycled stones such as old columns, cornices, and capitals. Parts of monuments containing bas-relief sculptures were placed on the interior side of the wall, so that they could not be viewed unless purposely extracted from the wall. The bricks or stones were arranged rather haphazardly in both the laying of the foundation as well as the interior side of the wall known as opus caementicium. The exterior, on the other hand, consisted of small carefully arranged bricks sealed with cement known as opus vittatum.
[Fig.2: Plan of the Roman wall and major monuments of Senlis (after: Office de Tourisme de Senlis)].
Subsequent centuries saw repeated restoration and modifications of the Senlis wall. During the Carolingian era, arched windows in the towers (four on the first level and three on the second) were a standard technique. The solid construction of the walls afforded protection to Senlis in the High Middle Ages against Norman invasions. The walls remained intact through the Capetian era (987-1328), and linked all the important monuments in the center of the city such as the royal palace, cathedral, chapter house, and bishop's palace (fig.2).
Bedon, R., P. Pinon, and R. Chevalier. 1988. Architecture et Urbanisme en Gaule Romain, Tome 2. Paris, Éditions Errance.
Vermand D. 1992. La Muraille Gallo-Romaine. Senlis, Patrimoine Senlisen.
The above text appears on page 61 of Senlis of Vol.4 No.2 of Athena Review. The complete text may be obtained in the printed version of the magazine.
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