The Old Museum in the Old Archbishops’ Palace

The Old Archbishops’ Palace, Narbonne, France

The formidable Roman history of the French city of Narbonne was, until recently, covered in the Old Palace building by the cathedral.  It was a fitting home, but it is, sadly, no more.  Come 2020, the objects will be in their new home, the NarboVia museum.  This is not a bad thing, because while the museum had some fabulous objects, they were perhaps not showcased as well as they should be.

Quite frankly if Nimes, with its Roman collection, got to have a brand-spanking new museum, then Narbonne deserves it too.  In some ways, there is better stuff here – they have an extraordinary group of frescoes, for a start, and that, as Roman-fans everywhere will agree, makes for a special experience.  These varied and often beautiful decorations were all found in the local area, showing that even in the provinces the quality of Roman domestic art could be very high.

Anyway, I’ll not bother writing about the museum and the building – it seems somewhat redundant.  As it is, please check out some of the cool stuff that will hopefully be on show at the new museum.

Come 2020, the museum of the Old Palace will be focussing on the city’s medieval heritage, so this following section will doubtless be changing a lot.  It will hopefully really serve to highlight the two wonderful rooms that showcased medieval painting.

The chapel of the Madeleine has some 14th century frescoes still in situ and although it’s hard to see the detail, you can tell that they were once stunning.  I hope the renovations will somehow (with better lighting?) allow you to appreciate them more.

Next door is the remarkable painted ceiling which dates from the 13th century.  The adorable little medieval scenes depicted in the wood panels were uncovered in the 1940s and were subsequently restored.   44 are entirely authentic, 26 were retouched, and 56 were reinvented (I assume these are the ones which are merely patterned).  Sometimes I am stunned by the paintings that have managed to survive from the Middle Ages, and these have great charm and some – I hope deliberate – humour.  They are just too, too cute and hopefully the new curation will really highlight them and allow visitors to see them a little better… can we have a raised platform, please?

Despite the fact that the museum had some wonderful Roman artefacts, the lower galleries which exhibited them were extremely drab and grotty.  However, that’s all going to change since they are going over to their new home, the NarboVia Museum, in 2020.  So, there’s no need for a commentary…  by the time you get to see these objects, they will doubtless be beautifully displayed.

So In Summary

Since the museum is currently being entirely redone and the Roman artefacts are winging their way over to their new home of NarboVia, there’s not much point saying much about the whole thing.  The objects on show are great, and hopefully in 2020 they will be housed in such a way that they will be really shown off to their best advantage.

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