In a recent archaeological excavation in the old Hôtel Dieu neighborhood in Rennes, archaeologists have discovered a large sanctuary. The discovery is part of the redevelopment of the site of the old Hôtel Dieu hospital.

The sanctuary, dating from the 3rd century AD, was uncovered after the excavation of the north wall enclosing its courtyard, known as the area sacra. This wall, over 100 meters long, houses at least one temple in its northern part, while part of an east-west oriented street is integrated into the religious complex to the south.

The magnitude of the sanctuary, unique in the city of Rennes, suggests that it could be the civic sanctuary of the city of the Redones (the Gallic people whose capital was the ancient Condate, now Rennes), known only from inscriptions reused in the foundations of the city wall.

Large domus room and remains of a hypocaust (underfloor heating system).
Large domus room and remains of a hypocaust (underfloor heating system). Credit: Cyril Cornillot / INRAP

Since the founding of the city, the Hôtel Dieu neighborhood has witnessed significant changes and transformations. In the 1st century, the first roads were built after extensive excavation and embankment work. Gradually, the interior of the neighborhood was occupied with buildings made of wooden posts and low foundations, housing both economic and residential activities.

The end of the 1st century marked the introduction of masonry, with the construction of a large sanctuary that included a courtyard dedicated to welcoming the faithful. This sanctuary succeeded an earlier building of a similar nature, built of wood. Warehouses, shops, and residences built of stone began to appear, and the initial roads were reconstructed, fully integrating the neighborhood into the flourishing city.

The end of the 3rd century brought the decline of the neighborhood. The public sanctuary was dismantled, and the stones from the enclosing wall were recovered, possibly during the construction of the castrum around 270-280. To the northwest of the excavation, a domus was completely dismantled to open a quarry for extracting alluvial sands. Despite this, some residences continued to be occupied in the 4th century, leaving their mark on the landscape through the furniture discovered.

Terracotta tiles stacked on top of each other to allow circulation of warm air in the hypocausts (underfloor heating).
Terracotta tiles stacked on top of each other to allow circulation of warm air in the hypocausts (underfloor heating). Credit: Cyril Cornillot / INRAP

At the end of the 3rd century or the beginning of the next, a funerary space was installed in the ruined areas, functioning until the 8th century and containing more than 600 tombs. This cemetery extended north to the Parc des Tanneurs, with its western limit marked by a cardo and its southern limit by the old sanctuary. The graves, organized in rows and oriented east to west, housed the deceased buried in the ground, in shrouds, or wooden coffins.

The excavation and discovery of the sanctuary and other remains in the Hôtel Dieu neighborhood are part of a broader archaeological operation, prescribed by state services (Drac Brittany, regional archaeology service) and carried out by Inrap.

These investigations, led by scientific manager Romuald Ferrette and deputy scientific and technical director Michel Baillieu, continue to renew the understanding of the history of this northern sector of ancient Rennes, from its foundation to the construction of the hospital in the 19th century.

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