Dissected Layers: Grenoble Archaeological Museum

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The Archaeological Museum of St Laurent, Musée archéologique Saint-Laurent, Grenoble, France

Across the Isère river, in the quaint streets of the St Laurent quarter of Grenoble, is a fascinating little museum which serves as a heartening example of what can happen if you dig down under the buildings of cities with ancient origins.

The museum is proud of the fact that 2000 years of history are covered in the site – spanning from a Roman necropolis to the 19th century.  Excavations were undertaken from 1978 to 1995, with the church only being deconsecrated in 1983, and the initial museum opening three years later.   Renovations led to the reopening in 2011, with an attractive use of technology to help recreate and understand the archaeology of the site.

In 1803, the 6th century crypt of St Oyand was rediscovered by Jacques-Joseph Champollion-Figeac (brother of the famous Egyptologist).  This discovery generated a good deal of interest and when Prosper Mérimee visited Grenoble in 1839, in his capacity as Inspector General of Historical Monuments, he waxed lyrical about the crypt and the site which has the distinction of being one of the first to be classified as a ‘historical monument’.

The church was used as a museum for locally discovered Gallo-Roman remains from 1853, but it’s really been the excavations from the 1970s that have made the site what it is today.  Over 1,500 graves have been found, the discovery of which has in turn unearthed over 3000 objects, dating from the 4th to the 18th century.  This incredible succession of burials has led to an increase in understanding of burial patterns, practices and religious beliefs of people in this region over 1600 years.

I’m not even going to try and explain the different levels of constructions and burials, and heartily suggest that you visit the museum to see things for yourself!

So In Summary

Rather like the other museums of Grenoble, St Laurent presents an interesting, unusual mix of history and archaeology in a very direct way.  The building is not perhaps the most exciting you’ll visit, but it serves as a good example of what archaeology actually is, what living in an ancient city actually means, and how different generations make changes and build on the work of their predecessors.  The museum does a great job of unravelling the layers of building work and letting you see it from different angles, so you can really get to understand the way the church and its environs changed over the centuries, adapting to the needs of the parish and its parishioners.

Further Information

Entry into the museum is free.

There is a website in English (linked with other museums of the area) which gives you all the basic information you may need to plan your visit: www.musees.isere.fr

How To Get There

I recommend using public transport to get you to the site, if you’re coming in from the train station area. Here is a link to the local transport site: www.tag.fr

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