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Maison Carrée


    The Maison Carrée at Nimes, France, is one of the best preserved temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire.
    It was built around 19 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who was also the original patron of the Pantheon in Rome. It was dedicated to his two sons, Gaius and Lucius, adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young. The original inscription dedicating the temple to Gaius and Lucius was removed in medieval times. However, a local scholar named Jean-François Séguier was able to reconstruct the inscription in 1758 from the order and number of the holes in the portico's facade, to which the bronze letters had been affixed. The text of the dedication read (in translation): "To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth."
    The temple owes its preservation to the fact that it was rededicated as a Christian church in the 4th century, saving it from the widespread destruction of temples that followed the adoption of Christianity as Rome's official state religion. It subsequently became a meeting hall for the city's consuls, a canon's house, a stable during the French Revolution and a storehouse for the city archives. It became a museum after 1823. Its French name derives from the archaic term carré long, literally meaning a "long square", or rectangle - a reference to the building's shape.The Maison Carrée is an excellent example of a classic Augustan temple. Raised on a 2.85 m high podium, it dominated the forum of the Roman city, forming a rectangle almost twice as long as it is wide (with dimensions of 26.42 m by 13.54 m). Its front is dominated by a deep portico or pronaos almost a third of the building's full length. It is hexastyle in form, with ten columns topped with Corinthian capitals under the pediment, and another 20 attached half-columns around the remainder of the building's exterior. The architrave over the columns has fine relief carvings of rosettes and acanthus leaves. A large door (6.87 m high by 3.27 m wide) leads to the surprisingly small and windowless interior, where the shrine or cella was originally housed. This is now used to house occasional art exhibitions. There are no remains of ancient decoration inside the cella.
    The building has undergone extensive restoration over the centuries; until the 19th century it formed part of a larger complex of adjoining buildings. These were demolished when the Maison Carrée was turned into a museum, restoring it to the splendid isolation that it would have enjoyed in Roman times. The pronaos was restored in the early part of the century when a new ceiling was provided, designed in the Roman style. The present door was made in 1824.
    It underwent a further restoration between 1988-1992 during which it was re-roofed and the square around it was cleared, revealing the outlines of the forum. Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to build a modern art gallery, known as the Carrée d'Art, on the far side of the square. This provides a startling contrast to the Maison Carrée but borrows many of its features, such as the portico and columns (but rendered in steel and glass). The contrast of its modernity is thus muted by the physical resemblance between the two buildings, representing architectural styles 2000 years apart.
    The Maison Carrée inspired the Neo-classical Church of the Madeleine in Paris.

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