Opulent residences, theatres, an economic, artisanal and religious centre: Aventicum was the capital of Helvetia, or Roman Switzerland, 2,000 years ago. One of the city's temples was dedicated to worship of the emperor.
The political and administrative centre of Helvetia had a population of 20,000 inhabitants. Close to major transport routes, on the road between Rome and Augusta Raurica (Augst), the city was an important Roman colony. Today, you can admire the immense amphitheatre, the thermal baths, the sanctuary, the gates and the remains of the city walls, which measured up to five kilometres long.
Several buildings were located on the hill, but part of the city was developed on the marshy plain that had been cleared. A single preserved column marks the position of the Cigognier temple. But what a column it is, composed of several blocks of Jura limestone, and 12 metres high. It is decorated with a frieze of sea dragons.
The discovery, in 1939, of a gold bust of Marcus Aurelius in one of the sanctuary's pipes, suggests that this portrait of the emperor was used as an image of worship. This magnificent object, composed of a single gold leaf of over 1.5 kg and dating from the 2nd century, is now preserved at the city's Roman Museum.
The building of the Cigognier, the largest sanctuary on the site (35m x 17m) began in the year 98 AD. Analysis of the wooden stakes beneath the building's foundations allowed this date to be established. The plans, technology and materials used are inspired by Rome. It was a rectangular building with a courtyard framed with porticos. Only the priests had access to the room that contained the worshipped statue. The faithful gathered in the courtyard, where processions also took place. This division of spaces demonstrates the hierarchical organisation of society at that time.
Cigognier is a curious name for a temple. It was so named because the column was home to a storks' nest (stork is 'cigogne' in French). It was spoken of as early as 1642, and was moved in 1978.