The Maison Carrée is an ancient building in Nîmes, southern France; it is one of the best preserved Roman temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire.
It was built c. 16 BC, and reconstructed in the following years, by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who was also the original patron of the Pantheon in Rome, and was dedicated or rededicated c. 2-4/5 AD to his two sons, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young. The inscription dedicating the temple to Gaius and Lucius was removed in medieval times. However, a local scholar, Jean-François Séguier, was able to reconstruct the inscription in 1758 from the order and number of the holes in the portico's facade, to which the bronze letters had been affixed by projecting tines. According to Séguier's reconstruction, the text of the dedication read (in translation): "To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth." During the 19th century the theatre slowly began to recover its original splendour, due to the efforts of Prosper Mérimée, who then held the position of director of "Monuments Historiques". Under his direction, restoration work began in 1825 and in 1869 the theatre became the home of a "Roman Festival" which celebrated the glory of Rome and included a performance of Méhul's opera, Joseph. In the latter part of the century, all the major players of the French classical stage appeared in the Orange festivals, including Sarah Bernhardt who played "Phèdre" in 1903.
Maison Carrée is an example of Vitruvian architecture. Raised on a 2.85 m high podium, the temple dominated the forum of the Roman city, forming a rectangle almost twice as long as it is wide, measuring 26.42 m by 13.54 m. The façade is dominated by a deep portico or pronaos almost a third of the building's length. It is a hexastyle design with six Corinthian columns under the Pediment at either end, and pseudoperipteral in that twenty engaged columns are embedded along the walls of the cella. Above the columns, the architrave is divided by two recessed rows of petrified water drips into three levels with ratios of 1:2:3. Egg-and-dart decoration divides the architrave from the frieze. The frieze is decorated with fine ornamental relief carvings of rosettes and acanthus leaves beneath a row of very fine dentils.
A large door (6.87 m high by 3.27 m wide) leads to the surprisingly small and windowless interior, where the shrine was originally housed. This is now used to house a tourist oriented 3-D film on a series of heroes that arose through Nîmes' history. No ancient decoration remains inside the cella.
The building has undergone extensive restoration over the centuries. Until the 19th century, it formed part of a larger complex of adjoining buildings. These were demolished when the Maison Carrée housed what is now the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes (from 1821 to 1907), restoring it to the isolation it would have enjoyed in Roman times. The pronaos was restored in the early part of the 19th century when a new ceiling was provided, designed in the Roman style. The present door was made in 1824.
It underwent a further restoration between 1988–1992, during which time it was re-roofed and the square around it was cleared, revealing the outlines of the forum. Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to build a modern art gallery, known as the Carré d'Art, on the far side of the square, to replace the city theater of Nîmes, which had burnt in 1952. This provides a startling contrast to the Maison Carrée but renders many of its features, such as the portico and columns, in steel and glass. The contrast of its modernity is thus muted by the physical resemblance between the two buildings, representing architectural styles 2000 years apart.
The Maison Carrée inspired the neoclassical Église de la Madeleine in Paris and in the United States the Virginia State Capitol, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who had a stucco model made of the Maison Carrée while he was minister to France in 1785.
- Official Website of Maison Carrée (English)
- Website made by the City of Nimes - Architecture and history (French)
- Photos and brief text
- Detailed photographs