by Brenda W. Clough
The tradition in Rome was to bury the dead outside the city. Christians developed the notion of burial in ‘sacred ground,’ which is to say in or around a church. This rapidly became impossible in cities, and led to creative solutions like the Catacombs of Paris. The great cemeteries of the 19th century, Highgate and other cemeteries around London and Pere Lachaise in Paris, were originally built outside the city. The expansions of the 20th century engulfed them.
So east of the great Roman regional capital of Arles was their Necropolis, the city of the dead. It was nearly as large and crowded as the city of the living. All the fine carvings and grand statues are safely socked away in the museum. All that can be seen today in the Necropolis (which, like all the other out-of-town cemeteries is now practically in the center of town) are rows and rows of stone coffins, some lidded and some not. In one space they are left as they originally were — set into the ground side by side so that the earth is a solid vista of stone lids. Vincent van Gogh famously did a painting of the space showing it very much as it is today. The students in this photo are a high school class, dispiritedly emulating the great painter.
We had time before lunch to go see the Flavian bridge. This is notable for being one of the few that survive with the arches, on either side of the span. The old via Domitia is still visible, with its ruts worn by Roman wagon wheels, passing over the bridge. The arches are adorned with lions, who are not couched as in front of libraries, but posed with their butts in the air — clearly visible in the first shot. Which means that as you cross the bridge you always get a good view of a lion about to attack, and then the next lion’s rear.