The archaeological excavations on Place Notre-Dame, in the centre of Grenoble, started in 1989 and uncovered early Christian remains of considerable importance, giving a new perspective to the town's religious history. The key discovery was a baptistery. Its font, the shape of which evolved over time, reflects changes in the ceremony of baptism in the early days of the Christian church. The crypt is entered from the ground floor of the museum, offering visitors a glimpse of Grenoble in the 3rd and 4th century and a chance to view the early Christian baptistery.
The entrance to the archaeological site is located in the museum's basement, at the same level as the ground of the town of Cularo, as Grenoble was first known. In the 3rd century the Romans built a wall around the town. Part of these ramparts, a wall with its facing of squared stones and one of the towers, are visible to this day.
The town stood on the left bank of the Isère river, close to the edge of the Chartreuse hills. It was surrounded by a fortified wall about 2,000 metres long. The wall itself was nine metres high and four and a half metres thick. It had 30 defensive towers and two gates.
Remains of Cularo
Visitors enter the exhibition space through the old postern gate formerly used by travellers entering the town on foot. They discover the remains of the ancient town of Cularo and Place Notre-Dame, under which the site is located. Although archaeological research revealed some secular buildings, the main find was the baptistery, built at the end of the 4th century. In the foreground the bottom of the walls of a hall adjoining the baptistery are visible. Beyond, we can see the remains of the central part of the baptistery, with the baptismal font.
The baptismal font stands in the middle of the baptistery. In the course of five centuries of use, the structure underwent various alterations reflecting changes in religious practice. Initially the font consisted of a square pool, about 75 cm deep, as baptism involved total immersion. With changes in the liturgy and the switch to baptism by simple sprinkling of water, the size of the font was reduced and its surroundings were substantially embellished.
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