Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum, Perigueux

Parc de Vésone – 20, rue du 26e Régiment d’Infanterie, Perigueux
Dordogne, France
closed on: Mondays, January 1 and 6-30, November 1 and 11, December 25
Museum Type: Archaeology
Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel exterior 1

The Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum is an archaeological site and museum in the French city of Perigueux, in the Dordogne department (formerly known as Périgord), southwest France. Along with the notable archaeological collections, the museum is also famous for its iconic building designed by Jean Nouvel.

The Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum and the archaeological site of the Domus of Bouquets
The Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum is named after the Roman town of Vesunna, which was the capital of the Petrocores, a Gallo-Roman population living in what is now the Dordogne department in Southwestern France from the 1st century BC to the fall of the Roman Empire. The ancient town was sited in the territory of the current town of Perigueux.

In 1959, during the excavation works of a planned residential complex, the remains of a large Gallo-Roman villa, dating back to the 1st century AD, were discovered on the borders of the historical center of Perigueux. Enclosing a central porticoed courtyard, the Villa des Bouquets, as it has been named, occupied an area of about 4,000 square meters and was decorated with remarkable wall paintings. In 1993, the municipal council of Périgueux decided to create a new museum to incorporate and protect the excavations, as well as to present to the public the municipality’s archaeological collections. Opened in 2003, the museum was officially named Vesunna – Site Musée Gallo-Romain. Along with the archaeological site of the Domus of Bouquets, Perigueux still retains other traces of its Roman past, including the remains of an amphitheater, a temple, and a tower.

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel exterior 3

Exterior view of the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Archaeological Site & Museum in Perigueux, Dordogne, Southern France. Photo courtesy of Ville de Perigueux.

esunna-Gallo-Roman-Museum-Perigueux-Dordogne-urban-model

A reconstruction model of the ancient Roman town of Vesunna on view at the museum. Photo Jacques Bodin.

Jean Nouvel’s building
The Vesunna Museum is widely considered as one of the best architectural designs by Jean Nouvel.
The building is a large glass, concrete, and steel construction supporting a 3,500-square-meter / 37,670-square-foot flat roof (which Jean Nouvel calls “umbrella”) that protects the remains of the villa from the weather. To avoid damage to the archaeological site, the museum structure consists of only fourteen slender steel columns based on micropiles.

At the center of a small glassed patio, a monumental 400-year-old oak dominates the entrance space and emerges from the building roof.
From the entrance, the visitors access the gigantic hall that encloses the site of the Gallo-Roman domus. A network of elevated boardwalks runs over and across the archaeological remains thus allowing the public to see the remains closely. A sequence of red and yellow lines painted on the ceiling mirrors the walls of the ancient villa, which was built in two phases.
The red lines indicate the first construction phase (1st century AD) and the yellow lines the second one (2nd century AD).
Large windows create expansive views from the interior of the main hall towards the historic center of Perigueux and its medieval and Renaissance buildings.
The complex also incorporates a small 16th-century building which contains the museum administration offices.

Overall, the whole museum is characterized by a continuous change of perspective, an interplay between large transparent and opaque surfaces, and a dialogue between antiquity and modernity. As Jean Nouvel says about the Vesunna Museum:

“The relationship of history with modernity is an architectural source of great poetry on the condition of being frank, sensitive, and right within the legitimate act of building. A metaphysical dimension is born of the vertiginous gap between two fragments of the real confronted in the space of a few meters and in the time of a couple of thousand years. Conscious of the risks of the situation, I proposed the simplest observation of protecting and revealing.“

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel exterior 4

The entrance of the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum. A large concrete wall runs on the right of the entrance path and creates a neutral background for the museum’s architecture.

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel interior 5

The museum’s entrance area is sided by a 400-year-old oak; © Philippe Rouault.

Vesunna-Gallo-Roman-Museum-Perigueux-Dordogne-Jean-Nouvel-interior-1

The main exhibition hall, which contains the archeological site of the Domus of Bouquets and the permanent exhibition of the museum. Photo Jacques Bodin.

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel plan

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel section

Vesunna Museum, plan of the level -1, and a cross-section. Images courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel.

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel exterior 3

The complex also incorporates a small 16th-century building that contains the museums’ administration offices; © Philippe Rouault.

Collection and permanent exhibition
The wooden walkways over the remains are sided by the permanent exhibition galleries, which present many archaeological artifacts found in the region – including sculptures, architectural elements, mosaics, jewelry, and pottery – together with architectural models and reconstructions.
The exhibition is divided into thematic areas dedicated to the monuments and urban development of the ancient city of Vesunna, and to the everyday life of its inhabitants.
Along with the permanent exhibition, the museum regularly accommodates temporary exhibitions and special events related to archaeology and ancient history.

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel interior 2

Capitals and other architectural decorative elements in the Vesunna Museum’s permanent exhibition; © Philippe Rouault. 

Vesunna-Gallo-Roman-Museum-Perigueux-Dordogne-mosaic

A Roman mosaic floor on display in the permanent exhibition. Photo Jacques Bodin.

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel interior 4

Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum Perigueux Dordogne Jean Nouvel interior 3

Two views of the main exhibition hall of the museum. Photos © Philippe Rouault.

Cover image, exterior view of the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum designed by Jean Nouvel. Photo © Philippe Rouault.


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