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VÉZELAY Yonne, France.

Perhaps named after the estate of a 4th c. Gallo-Roman landowner, Vercellacus, but the site undoubtedly dates from before that time. It was a market, overlooking the vineyards and standing at the junction of two main roads.

A Temple of Bacchus lies under the church of St. Etienne (noted in 17th c. archives), but the visible traces of Roman occupation are on the wooded plateaus SW of the city (Forêt des Ferrières, Forêt du Crot au Port). In 1960 the first elements of a Gallo-Roman ironworks were uncovered, dating from the 2d c. A.D. Vézelay lies in the middle of a vast region (including parts of the modern departments of Aube, Loiret, Nièvre, and Côte d'Or) where the Romans extracted iron ore, goetite, and limonite, not far below ground (2-7 m) in the Eocene silts. Traces of this activity abound: the slag heaps, mounds of molten metal scraps which contain 10,000-80,000 metric tons, are still rich in iron (20-40 percent). There are roughly 2000 pits (round holes 4-6 m in diameter and 5-7 m deep) over a 6 ha stretch in the area known as Les Ferrières. One of the places where the ore was washed was easily located, but the smelting areas and batteries of ovens have been difficult to pinpoint.

Each district had its own pits, its apparatus for washing the ore, and its own ovens and slag heaps, as well as its own administrative manpower and slave labor. In the district of Crot au Port the administrator's villa and a fanum have been excavated. The villa (20 x 25 m), in the Pompeian style, consists of a paved porch, two lateral rooms (one with a cellar), and an inner courtyard with three adjoining rooms, one of which has a hypocaust. Some frescos and stuccos were found in this room. The house was built at the end of the 1st c. A.D. on a leveled slag heap.

The fanum (4 x 4 m) stands on a small hillock overlooking the crossing of two roads (one links the Yonne and Cure rivers, the other runs from the ironworks to the baths of Fontaines Salées). A carved altar stone dedicated to Mercury and a bronze statuette of the same god have been found there; they point to Mercury as the protector of miners.

The ironworks apparently ceased to function at the end of the 2d c. A.D. and both villa and fanum were burnt down.

Another important discovery is that of the wooden structure (a fixed table) for washing the ore, in a pond used for the purpose in the Ferrières district. It is a unique piece. The wooden elements, 3-6 m long, are remarkable examples of the carpenter's skill.

This is the first complete example of Gallo-Roman ironworks. The collection of finds is at Vézelay.


R. Louis, Les fouilles gallo-romaines de St-Père (1937); R. Dauvergne, Sources minérales, thermes, et occupation du sol auxFontaines Salées” (1944); B. Lacroix, Un sanctuaire de source circulaire auxFontaines Salées” (1963); id., Les origines protohistoriques et gallo-romaines de Vézelay (1963); id., Une installation artisanale auxFontaines Salées” (1965); id., Les “Fontaines Saléesà l'aube de l'âge du fer (1966); id., “Une piscine du Ier S.,” Echo d'Auxerre (1967); id., Dieux gaulois et romains de la vallée de la Cure (1970).


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