The temple at Elst-Westeraam
This temple complex was recently uncovered during works in Elst in the Netherlands. The excavation yielded information that made it possible to reconstruct the temple and the surrounding court to a relatively high degree of detail. The reconstruction by Kees Peterse shows that this Romano-Celtic temple had an imposing façade.
Reconstructed view of the sacred precinct of Elst-Westeraam. In the background to the left, the roof of the great temple at the centre of the Roman settlement can be seen. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker.
One of the largest Romano-Celtic temples came to light in 1947 during excavation works under the Dutch Reformed Church in Elst. This temple was once the heart of an important settlement at a crossroads in the Betuwe region. In the countryside outside that settlement, beside a road to the east, a smaller temple was located, about 500 meters from the large one. The remains of this second temple were excavated in 2002 prior to the construction of the new-build Westeraam residential district.
Built in stone around 100 AD, on the site of several wooden predecessors, this temple stood at the centre of an area of approximately 50 by 70 meters, which was enclosed by a solid wooden fence. After being in use for about a century, the temple gradually fell into ruin.
Reconstructed view of the sacred precinct of Elst-Westeraam from the west. The sacred precinct was located on the east bank of a waterway that once ran between the Waal and Rhine rivers, which was still navigable at the time but which later filled in to form land. The sacred precinct and the temple opened to the west. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker.
Kees Peterse made a reconstruction of the masonry temple on commission of the Archaeology Office for the Municipality of Nijmegen. His reconstruction of the floor plan has been reproduced full scale in the form of a pavement of black tiles on an elevated foundation, a work installed on Tempellaan in Elst, not far from the actual site.
A floor plan with two concentric rectangles measuring 5.7 by 7.9 metres and 13.2 by 14.2 metres can be projected onto the foundation remains of the temple, with the central rectangle indicating where the inner chamber (cella) stood and the outer one marking out the location of the colonnade. On the west side of the temple, the colonnade is 1.2 metres wider than on the other three sides. Also, the north and south walls of the cella extend slightly beyond the west wall. This indicates that the temple opened to the west.
Left: map of the sacred precinct of Elst-Westeraam around 100 AD, with the temple (1), a well (2) and the fence (3). The grey areas have not been excavated. Based on: H. van Enckevort & J. Thijssen (eds.), In de schaduw van het Noorderlicht: De Gallo-Romeinse tempel van Elst-Westeraam, 2005, p. 47.
Right: reconstructed floor plan of the temple. Drawing by Kees Peterse.
Reconstructed view of the sacred precinct and the temple from the west. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker
Reconstructed exterior view of the temple from the south west, with a well to the right. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker.
For the reconstruction, the analysis of the floor plan of the temple and examination of the surviving building fragments led to two important conclusions:
* The columns that supported the monopitch roof of the colonnade had simple Tuscan capitals and were about 2 meters high. Because the eaves were higher, these columns must have stood on a base; the completely encircling foundation indicates that the columns did not each have their own plinth, but rather stood on a low wall.
* The front of the temple was architecturally accentuated not only in the floor plan but also in the upstanding structure. Here, the ambulatory was interrupted by a portal with a pitched roof and triangular tympanum. The columns used here were about 3 meters high and probably had more richly decorated Corinthian capitals.
With the portal added to the front, the temple of Elst-Westeraam belongs to a special group of Romano-Celtic temples. These temples have inherited elements from the classical Roman temple architecture, especially the strong emphasis on the front of the temple. Some temples in this group are also placed on a podium, such as the large temple under the Dutch Reformed Church in Elst.
In the course of the 2nd century AD, a small extension was added to the south side of the temple ambulatory. Probably at the same time a small structure of about the same size as the extension was incorporated into the fence on the south side of the sacred precinct directly opposite this extension..
Reconstructed view of the portico of the temple from the north. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker.
Reconstructed view of the temple and sacred precinct after the renovations carried out over the 2nd century. Still rendering by Gerard Jonker.
To learn more
K. Peterse, Reconstructie van de Gallo-Romeinse tempel, in: H. van Enckevort & J. Thijssen (ed.), In de schaduw van het Noorderlicht. De Gallo-Romeinse tempel van Elst-Westeraam, Abcoude/Nijmegen 2005, 51-63.
K. Peterse, Die Rekonstruktion des gallorömischen Umgangstempels von Elst-Westeraam (NL), in: Th. Ganschow & M. Steinhart (eds.), Otium – Festschrift für Volker Michael Strocka, Remshalden 2005, 285-294. [PDF]
K. Peterse, Reconstructie van de Gallo-Romeinse tempel, in: H. van Enckevort (ed.), De Romeinse cultusplaats. Een opgraving in het plangebied Westeraam te Elst – gemeente Overbetuwe (Gld.), Nijmegen 2007 (Archeologische Berichten Nijmegen, Rapport 5), 39-48.
H. van Enckevort & K. Peterse, Erst Holz, dann Stein. Der gallorömische Tempel von Elst-Westeraam, in: M. Hegewisch (eds.), Krieg und Frieden. Kelten-Römer-Germanen, Bonn/Darmstadt 2007, 273-276.