Roman Remains in Nyon

Nyon, Switzerland

Little remains of Nyon’s Roman past. Apart from the Roman museum, a few Roman items can be seen around Nyon. Some decorative stones were used in later buildings but the most visual are the pillars erected above Parc du Bourg-de-Rive. These three pillars (well two and a third pillars) were discovered buried horizontally in old town Nyon and moved to overlook Lake Geneva in 1958. Here, they can easily be seen by travelers arriving by boat or by car from the Geneva direction. These Roman pillars vie with Chateau de Nyon to be the symbol of Nyon.

To the east of Nyon’s old town, the foundation of the Roman amphitheater was discovered in 1996. The ruins are not in a particularly good condition and although covered to prevent further erosion, no immediate plans (or financing) are in place to preserve these Roman ruins completely.

Roman Museum

The Roman Museum (Musée Romain) in Nyon explains the Roman heritage of Nyon and is located inside the foundations of the former Roman basilica. Apart from the Roman foundations, the museum has many Roman-era articles on display as well as numerous models that explain Roman buildings and structures.

Nyon’s written history started around 45 BCE when during the times of Julius Caesar the Roman town Noviodunum, which was an important town in the Roman Colonia Iulia Equestris, was founded on the shores of Lake Geneva. The Roman presence lasted until around 400 AD but Nyon remained occupied by humans without interruption.

The Roman Museum in Nyon is located inside the foundations of a first-century Roman basilica. Apart from the exposed foundations, numerous Roman items from the region are on display. These include the mainstays of many Roman museums in Europe such as stones of various functions engraved in Roman letters and numerals, odd bits of statues, remains of mosaics, pots, and jewelry.

Scale models illustrate what the Roman forum complex in Nyon must have looked like while further models illustrate various other aspects of Roman life. A few activity stations for children allow them to explore how a Roman arch is built and how best to load amphorae in a boat.

The museum also gives a broad overview of Roman occupation in what is present-day Switzerland. In Roman times, as in the present, Nyon and nearby Geneva were in completely different administrative regions. Currently, Nyon is in canton Vaud (Waadt) while Geneva is in Genève (Genf).

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Details

Founded: 45 BC
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Switzerland

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Siddarth Rupani (29 days ago)
One of the few things to visit in Nyon. Good view from here. (and those travellers who want to fill their water bottles...there is a water fountain next to it)
Simon Conway (2 months ago)
Explore and find the gems in this lovely town loads to see
Mike Jollands (8 months ago)
One of them is broken, what a mess
Vachagan Harutyunyan (8 months ago)
Lovely spot with a great view by the lakeside. This is one of the main attractions of Nyon.
Niall Macpherson (15 months ago)
Another nice view on the lake towards Geneva. Concerts on a Sunday morning.
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Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.