2000 YEARS OF HISTORY
A CITY OF ROMAN GAULE
The ancient agglomeration named Cassinomagus (current village of Chassenon) was located in the province of Aquitaine and belonged to the city of Lémovices whose chief town was the ancient Limoges: Augustoritum .
Cassinomagus was located along the via Agripp,a which crossed Roman Gaul from Saintes to Lyon, from the 1st century AD.
It was in the 1st century BC that Julius Caesar transformed Gaul into Roman provinces. Buildings emblematic of the adoption of a new art of living were then built. Imagine that almost 2000 years ago stood in Chassenon a monumental complex composed of public and religious buildings. Locals and travelers alike could find here a theatre (still buried under vegetation), a temple 30 metres high today destroyed, as well as thermal baths: the best preserved remains of France.
THERMAL BATHS OF 12,500 M²
The thermal baths were built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD on a double plan, according to the imperial model used in Rome. Less gigantic and luxurious than Roman examples, Cassinomagus' thermal baths still cover a surface area of 12,500 m².
The thermal baths are one of the major buildings of the Roman way of life. They are frequented for hygiene, beauty treatments and physical exercise. But the baths are also a place of meeting and exchanges. All social classes combined, the population is found at the edges of the pools, in the treatment rooms, under the porticoes, in the gardens…. Different hours or days are probably offered to men and women accompanied by their children.
The use of thermal baths is based on a principle of progressive heating of the body, ending with a sudden cooling. Beforehand, the body is coated with oil in order to provoke, by the perspiration due to the heating of the body, a saponification which cleans the skin; the course therefore begins either with physical exercise in the dedicated rooms (gymnasiums or palestra), or with perspiration and immersion in the hot baths of the hot rooms (caldarium, hot swimming pools). The user passes through lukewarm rooms (tepidaria), a transition space to accustom the body to temperature variations. The bathing ritual ends in cold rooms (frigidaria) or in outdoor spaces (natatio) to restore tone to the skin and firm it up. The body treatment rooms (unctoria - destrictaria) allowed users to thoroughly clean their skin using strigil, or to be massaged, waxed, shaved...
The water was brought, cold, by an aqueduct which also supplied the temple. The cold water was distributed either in the cold basins and fountains or in boilers allowing it to be heated and then supplied to the hot basins.
Twelve ovens were used to heat the water but also all the hot rooms thanks to the ingenious hypocaust heating.
We now know that the building operated for over 150 years, before being partially destroyed by fire at the end of the 3rd century AD.
With the gradual abandonment of the thermal baths, nature regained its rights. And the burial of the remains has favored the exceptional conservation of the building, allowing us today to better understand the construction and use of the time.
A PLACE OF WORSHIP AMONG THE MOST VAST IN ROMAN GAUL
The sanctuary would have been built at the end of the 1st century - beginning of the 2nd century A.D. and is today estimated at 7 hectares, including a temple 30 meters high and a sacred wood, making it one of the largest places of worship in Roman Gaul.
The temple called "de Montélu" would have been built at the end of the 1st century - beginning of the 2nd century A.D.
Made up of a podium 3 meters high, it has a width of 47 meters and had an estimated height of 30 meters. It overlooks the thermal baths, the aqueduct and the entertainment building of the monumental complex. Its plan is characteristic of religious architecture in Roman Gaul: a central room, the cella, surrounded by a colonnaded gallery. Here, the cella was shaped like a tower of 18 meters in diameter, octagonal on the outside and circular on the inside.
No deity could be associated with the temple, but archaeological excavations have brought to light arrangements around a recurring theme: water.
The temple is part of a dedicated space made up of two vast esplanades, to the west and to the east. These areas are delimited by a surrounding wall lined by a colonnade gallery on the inside (allowing the movement of people).
Near the temple, circles 3 meters wide, draw a checkerboard of 50 meters on the side in the natural meadow: they are the imprints of 49 pits dug out of the natural rock.
Thanks to archeology and specialized earth sciences, it is now known that these pits were used to accommodate trees or shrubs, thus forming an orderly wood entirely created by human hands. Present within the place of worship, archaeologists identify it with a sacred wood in connection with the divinity.
Unfortunately, analyzes of the pits did not identify the type of trees planted in the sacred wood of the place of worship of Cassinomagus .
REDISCOVERY AND ARCHEOLOGY
It was in the 16th century that Cassinomagus was identified for the first time as an ancient agglomeration. It was not until the 18th century that the first investigations were carried out there. The research then focused on the great temple.
Finally, it was in the 20th century, in 1958, that the excavations of Jean-Henri Moreau, founder of the Société des Amis de Chassenon, made it possible to identify the remains as thermal baths. He also researched the temple.
Since 1995, professional excavations have made it possible to better understand the architecture and the functioning of this monumental space as well as the thermal baths, the place of worship or even the aqueduct.