During excavations carried out in 2008 and 2009 under part of the Place de la République, in the centre of the old town of Luxeuil-les-Bains, an important archaeological site was discovered. Around the ruins of the old parish church of Saint Martin, archaeologists discovered the remains of a second century Roman villa and several other buildings from the Roman period that had been used for religious purposes throughout the Middle Ages. In the 6th century CE, the Irish monk Saint Colombanus had a monastery built on the site of the Roman fort, which became an important and powerful abbey. In 665 CE, the third abbot of Luxeuil, Saint Valbert died and was buried in the crypt of the church, and from that moment on, many religious and non-religious people asked to be buried as close to him as possible.
This explains the incredible number of stone sarcophagi squeezed into this limited space.
Given the importance of the site, the church decided to conserve the remains and enhance them by constructing a complex that would act as a starting point for exploring the town.
The result is a contemporary construction, in wood and metal, that houses the 380 tombs and 150 sarcophagi recovered from the site. It is also connected to the Tourist Office that is located in an ancient building that has been carefully restored without altering its structure. Its wooden floors have all been restored and reused, the roof has been conserved and reinforced and large areas of the original masonry have been left visible.
The Ecclésia (from the Greek word for meeting), as the new construction is called, envelops the remains while also redesigning the surrounding urban spaces that include a plaza on the shopping precinct and a small square at the back that offers views over the gothic and renaissance-style houses of the old town.
The monolithic roof covers the entire 765 sqm area of the remains, carefully following the perimeter of the excavations. A three-dimensional structure has been chosen for its ability to sustain significant horizontal distances (up to 24 m). It is constructed on a series of square (2 m x 2 m) grids. This geometrical pattern defines, governs and shapes the whole composition, and is applied to the building’s entire shell, starting from the non-loading façades with their pinewood grille.
This project is the result of intense teamwork, including an archaeologist tasked with scientifically monitoring the site. Special care has also been taken with the scenography, lighting and humidity controls.
The lighting design perfected by the 8’18’’ studio features 86 millimetre diameter Palco projectors with a combination of track-mounted flood, medium and spot optics, all with a black finish to blend into the structure they are installed in.
Visitors can enjoy an overall view thanks to homogeneous lighting, but they can also move up close to the remains, thanks to a system of walkways that overlook the tombs. In this case, the visitors’ attention is guided by spot optic accent lighting towards details like inscriptions, decorations or sarcophagus lids.
To highlight emergency features, different coloured lights have been created using filters. So, there are areas that include red or blue lights.
Palco luminaires have also been installed in the tourist office which is a hybrid area. In some parts, ruins can be seen, but there is also a bookshop and retail space. In this area projectors with a white finish have been used with recessed Laser luminaires installed in transit areas.
The new building’s exteriors are lit with Platea pro luminaires that highlight the vertical wooden grille while also illuminating the surrounding space and helping to enhance the square.
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