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Archeological digs in Place du Maréchal Leclerc

2,000 years of History beneath Marshal Leclerc Square

Between February and May 2024, upon the recommendation of the State (Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs – Burgundy-Franche-Comté), archaeologists from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) are excavating a 500 m² area in the center of Marshal Leclerc Square prior to its landscaping. At the beginning of 2023, archaeological diagnostics revealed a sequence of occupations dating from the Gallo-Roman period (1st century) to the beginning of the Contemporary Era (late 19th century).

Between November 2023 and January 2024, initial network repairing works, under the supervision of archaeologists from the Center for Medieval Studies (CEM), provided unprecedented information that will be complemented by the ongoing excavation. These investigations will help to retrace the urban evolution of this district in the city of Auxerre.

Autessiodurum, the origins of Auxerre

At the beginning of the 4th century, Autessiodurum (Auxerre) was chosen as the capital of the new city of Auxerre. On this occasion, the agglomeration founded in the 1st century BC in the plain of the Ru de Vallan (currently Boulevard Vaulabelle) was abandoned in favor of a re-establishment on a plateau overlooking the Yonne river. The new city was protected by a fortified enclosure (castrum) covering approximately 6 hectares. The historic centre of Auxerre bears witness to this day.

Marshal Leclerc Square is located southwest of the fortification, a segment of which was uncovered during the excavation. It overlays a small earlier necropolis (1st-2nd century), providing evidence that the area was already inhabited. The city gradually takes shape during the 4th-6th centuries. The district of Marshal Leclerc Square quickly becomes a center of power, especially following the still hypothetical foundation of the first cathedral dedicated to Saint Alban in the 4th century and the comtal palace in the Middle Ages.

From Le Palais de Justice Street to the Marshal Leclerc square

From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the Roman fortification serves as a support for various buildings. The comtal palace, expanding against its north facade within the city, is replaced by the seat of the royal bailiwick in 1367, and later by the court of law from 1626, before being transformed into a library and museum in the 1860s. In 1823, the city adds the women’s prison to this complex. The Gallo-Roman rampart, still partially standing, serves as a boundary for the courtyard. The Palais de Justice street, connecting the Clock Tower to the current Faillot street, provides access to the main entrance of these buildings.

Through these studies, it is interesting to observe to what extent the wall of the ancient castrum played a structuring role in the urban development of the neighborhood for several centuries before the creation of the current square in the 1860s. All the information collected through archaeology serves as a way to revive the daily life of the inhabitants of the former Palais de Justice street.

The landscaping of Marshal Leclerc Square in 2024 marks an additional milestone in the Two-thousand-year long life of this district.