by Elizabeth de Portzamparc / Nîmes, France



Important complex of Roman culture and an innovative museum, archeological garden and living environment, the inauguration of the Musée de la Romanité on June 2 was the largest contemporary architectural and cultural event for 2018 in France. Its exceptional archeological collections contain over 25,000 pieces, of which some 5,000 are exhibited here over 9,200 m2. They take the viewer on a unique historical voyage through 25 centuries of history thanks to the immersive and interactive exhibition design.


The museum stands opposite the Roman amphitheater of Nîmes, at the edge of the Écusson district, the name of the historic heart of the city. Straddling the ruins of the roman rampart, it is positioned atop the backbone of what was in the past the limit between the medieval and modern districts of the city. Twenty centuries of urban strata are superimposed here and as many bits and pieces of period architectures. This is the exceptional heritage of the city of Nîmes.

As if raised up in the midst of these witnesses of the past, the museum is imagined as the gateway to an urban promenade through a series of urban openings and the framing of perspectives, the treasures of Roman heritage and of the more recent buildings surrounding it are enhanced. The axes and links created between the streets and the adjacent public squared offer greater openness and new pathways through the city.



Launched in June 2011, the competition jury short-listed three briefs out of the 103 project entries submitted. The winner, announced a year, was the project of the 2Portzamparc architecture office, designed by Elizabeth de Portzamparc. In addition to the urban and architectural design of the museum, Elizabeth de Portzamparc also conceived the museography and interior design as well as the furniture, thereby ensuring the resulting project is a beautifully coherent whole.

« In my in-depth analysis of the Amphitheater, I thought a great deal about the very idea of a placing a contemporary building here and how to glorify the 21 centuries of architectural history that separate these two buildings.

A very light architectural design, made possible by current technology, seemed an obvious choice to me, as well as the need to express the differences between the two periods through an honest dialog, based on the complementarity: on the one hand, a round volume surrounded by vertical roman arches in stone and solidly anchored to the ground, on the other, a large and floating square volume clad in toga of glass drapery. »



The building is organized around an interior street that follows the trace of the ancient Augustan rampart. Accessible to all, this public passageway creates a visual opening and links the plaza surrounding the Amphitheater with the archeological garden. As visitors and strollers cross through the museum’s entirely transparent ground floor, they are invited to discover the ancient treasures of the site. In the building’s core, a 17-meter atrium reveals a fragment of the propylaea of the Sanctuary of the Fountain, placed within a spectacular reconstitution of this sacred site dating from the foundation of the pre-Roman city. This first ever public recreation is an invitation to discover the entire collections and interior of the museum.

This passageway aslo offers access to museum’sbookstore, café, and the restaurant, La table du 2, with its breathtaking view of the Amphitheater, and run by Chef Franck Putelat, who has been awarded two stars in the Michelin Guide for Le Parc in Carcassonne. A nimber of openings in the facade offer different views of the Amphitheater, and the archeological garden below. Throughout the exhibition spaces, an uninterrupted dialog is maintained between the museography and the exterior, causing the city to penetrate the museum.


The Musée de la Romanité functions as much more than a simple exhibition space. It is imagined as a gateway to a deeper understanding of the city and its history. In a broader sense, it provides an exceptional view for grasping the footprint of Roman civilization in the Mediterranean basin.

The decision to make a contemporary architectural gesture facing a monument, as with the Carré d’Art a few years ago, aligns the museum with the tradition of_Nîmes. Today the museum offers a new vision of the public square of the Amphitheater and its curving façade. Its lightness facing the classical massiveness sets up a powerful architectural dialog between these two buildings separated by 2,000 years of history.


The façades are the building’s final punctuation mark, with the dual function of conferring identity and practicality. They are the calling cards for the buildings and thus reflect their values.

Situated at the entrance to the ancient city, the museum opens the view to the Amphitheater from the Rue de la République through transparent its ground floor : it announces the spectacle, attracts and surprises. The supple drapery of the façade evokes a Roman toga and the square glass plates composing it combine modern transparency with the tradition of a major Roman art : mosaics. It also subtly evokes a major element of the museum’s collections. This translucent glass skin is composed of 7,000 screen-printed glass plates covering a surface of 2,500 m2. The reflections and undulations of this glass mosaic change appearance over the course of the day. A work within a work, it creates kinetic reflections, variations of subtle reflections depending on the angles, inclines, troughs and ridges, which accentuate the perception of movement through constant metamorphosis as the day goes by and the seasons change, creating a dialog with the city by reflecting its colors, light and the surrounding life.



The green roof wasn’t planned to the competition program. It was create by Elizabeth de Portzamparc as a culminating point of the museum ascentionnal trail. It ponctuates the  visit by offering a belvedere on Nîmes and its 21 centuries of history, with the Amphitheater in the foreground and, in the distance, the Tour Magne, dating from the city’s founding. This public space, a meeting place, accessible to all, a city square up above, brings urban life up to the very top of the museum.

Organized around the Roman wall and other vestiges discovered during the excavations prior to levelling work, the archeological garden is imagined as a “green museum.” All traces of history discovered here have been preserved and restored and are now freely accessible to all visitors and strollers.

This green public space of 3,500 m2 thought by Régis Guignard is structured in three layers corresponding to the three major periods – the Gauls, the Romans and the Middle Ages – of the museographic trail, thus enriching and completing the scientific purpose while offering a large coherence. Thereby, during the sequence on agriculture, we see through the museum window the urban agriculture site installed in the garden. Each level has been planted with trees, bushes and perennial chosen for the period during which they were introduced over the course of exchanges, influences and occupations. In addition to its scientific value, the archeological garden offers a new space of nature in the city for visitors and passersby. Entirely open, the garden is directly connected to the surrounding urban fabric : the accesses linking the Rue Ducros with the Rue de la République now enable visitors to cross the garden like any public space. It thus constitue a passageway and a meeting place, creating a new and friendly urban area. It can also be the starting point for discovering the museum and its collections. 


The Musée de la Romanité of Nîmes acts as a gate to understanding the Roman sites of the region. It tells the Roman story from its material remains at the scale of a city. Its museography opens to the outside, creating a visible link between the city and the collections. The principle of the museography is to "give meaning to the objects", that is put them in the context of their creation and usage. Thanks to physical – vestiges found during archeological digs - and immaterial witnesses – reconstitutions and multimedia devices -, it helps knowing and understanding better the Roman civilization.

The permanent collections

The permanent collections come from recent archaeological finds, most often local or regional, and from the archaeological museum of Nîmes, created at the 19th Century. Around 5,000 pieces are displayed following a chronological and themed itinerary structured in great periods going from the 7th Century B.C. until the Middle Age and the Roman legacy to the 19th Century.

The rich and broad collections include:

- one thousand Latin inscriptions

- 200 architectonic fragments

- 65 mosaics

- 300 sculpted elements (bas-reliefs and sculptures in the round)

- 800 objects in glass

- 450 oil lamps

- 389 manufactured objets (bone and ivory)

- hundreds of ceramic objects

- bronze objects

- 12,500 antique and medieval coins

- 15 panels with restored Roman mural paintings

Innovating technologies

Digital reconstitution mediums support visitors along the itinerary, helping them to imagine the original aspect of ancient buildings and the everyday life of the inhabitants. White luminous boxes, called "knowledge boxes", open three chronologic sections of the path. This methodology created by Elizabeth de Portzamparc works as an introduction to the different sequences: maps, historical timelines and screens present and contextualize the period presented.

Multimedia devices are spread all along the itinerary: virtual visits, graphic animations (animated films, motion design) and interactive maps allow for better understanding the context of the collections. Augmented reality devices, interactive 180° panoramic views or an interactive images wall are made to propel the visitors into the past and make them discover the life of humans of Antiquity, the evolution of their know-how and the masterpieces they produced.


Mandatory - Architecture and museography ELIZABETH DE PORTZAMPARC

Associate architectes A + ARCHITECTURE

Associate architectes (ACMH) ALAIN-CHARLES PERROT


Multimedia MARDI 8




Environmental quality CELSIUS ENVIRONNEMENT

BET Construction economy L’ECHO


BET Façade RFR



BET Synthesis C&G

Security and accessibility CSD FACES