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French archaeologists discover 'little Pompeii' near Lyon

An archaeologist works on a mosaic on the antiquity site of Sainte-Colombe, near Vienne. Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP

French archaeologists have discovered a 'little Pompeii' - an ancient Roman neighbourhood uncovered on the outskirts of the southeastern French city of Vienne.

"We're unbelievably lucky. This is undoubtedly the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years," said Benjamin Clement, who is leading a 20-strong team of archaeologists on the banks of the Rhone river, about 30 kilometres south of Lyon.

The site unearthed on land awaiting construction of a housing complex covers an area of nearly 7,000 square metres, an exceptionally large size.

Remains of an entire neighbourhood of the Roman city of Vienne have been discovered in Sainte-Colombe near Lyon. Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP

“The discovery is significant because of the huge size of the site," he told RFI, adding that two big fires destroyed the site in the beginning of the second century and in the middle of the third century AD.

The neighbourhood is believed to have been inhabited for around 300 years before being abandoned after the fires.

Many of the objects in place when the inhabitants fled, were conserved, turning it into a 'little Pompeii', a reference to the Roman city that was preserved after being buried by volcanic ash.

A section of an important route and two luxurious homes were among the remnants discovered at the site.

“We found three things, one of which is a part of Via Narbonensis which was the biggest road in southern France in the antiquity.”

“We also found two huge public spaces, one of which is a big market and the other probably a philosophy school as well as two big aristocratic homes and one temple probably for imperial divinity,” Clement told RFI.