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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Charles Ernest Beulé

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Charles Ernest Beulé

The Beulé Gate to the Athens Acropolis has the unique distinction among the city's ancient monuments of being named after an archaeologist: the French archaeologist, politician and author Charles Ernest Beulé (1826-1874). Having worked as professor of rhetoric at Moulins for a year, in 1851 he went to work at the French Archaeological School at Athens (l’École française d’archéologie d’Athènes) , and discovered the gate and the stairs up to the Classical Propylaia entrance during excavations in 1852-1853.

Early modern visitors to Athens, including Jacob Spon and George Wheler (17th century) and William Martin Leake (early 19th century) had reported an inscription commemorating a Roman named Flavius Septimus Marcellinus for presenting the gate to the city (in 280 AD), but it was Beulé who realised the significance of the late Roman defensive gateway, and freed it and the grand stairway from centuries of accumulated rubble.

Beulé's discoveries were not only a considerable boost to his own personal reputation but also to the status of the French archaeological school, which was losing ground to German and Greek archaeologists, and was apparently in danger of being closed down.

He wrote about his investigations of the Acropolis in L'Acropole d'Athènes, published in two volumes, 1853-1854. Republished by Firmin Didot frères, fils et cie, Paris, 1862. A scan of this book is available in several formats at: archive.org

He also undertook pioneering excavations at Carthage in 1857-1859, the conclusions of which appeared in Fouilles à Carthage (Excavations in Carthage), éd. Imprimerie Impériale, Paris, 1861.

His success as an archaeologist gained him fame and favour in high places, and when he returned to France he was rewarded with several honours and offices, including being made a doctor of letters, a chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur, professor of archaeology at the Bibliothèque Impériale (1854), member of l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1860) and perpetual secretary of l'Académie des Beaux-Arts (1862).

A member of the right-wing Orleanist party, in 1871, following the turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War, the Revolution of 1870 and the Paris Commune, Beulé was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly for his home department Maine-et-Loire. In 1873 he was appointed Minister of the Interior, but was only able to remain in this post for six months.

Charles Ernest Beulé, French archaeologist and politician at My Favourite Planet

Charles Ernest Beulé

Detail of the 1857 portrait by
Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry,
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers.
See a plan of the entrance to the Acropolis in the Athens Acropolis photo gallery at My Favourite Planet

See a plan of the entrance
to the Acropolis, showing the
Beulé Gate, the Propylaia
and other features, in the
Athens Acropolis gallery.
Suffering from ill health and depression (a result of his buffeting in the harsh realities of French politics?), he committed suicide on 4 April 1874, and was buried in a Greek-style tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, ("the world's most visited cemetery"), where he lies alongside other celebreties such as Jane Avril, Honoré de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Gustave Doré, Isadora Duncan, Paul Éluard, Max Ernst, Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde.

The New York Times called him "an archaeologist of high repute" (article, 27 May 1873: "M. Beule, Minister of the Interior"). Rue Beulé, a street in his home town of Saumur, was named after him (see saumur-jadis.pagesperso-orange.fr/rues_b/beuleru.htm).

It seems odd that, despite his fame, good reputation and considerable body of work, it appears that no serious biography of Beulé has been published and very little of his writing is available in translation. While he has hardly been consigned to a footnote in history, he is mentioned merely in passing, mostly in books and articles about the archaeology of Greece and Carthage.

Other works by Beulé include: Études sur le Péloponèse (1855), Les Monnaies d'Athènes (1858), L'Architecture au siècle de Pisistrate (1860).

He also wrote a number of popular works on artistic and historical subjects: Histoire de l'art grec avant Périclès (1868) and Le Proces des Cesars (published in 4 parts 1867-1870).


References to Charles Ernest Beulé on My Favourite Planet:

Athens Acropolis gallery page 6: the Beulé Gate


Article: © copyright David John, November 2011

 
 

Idealized reconstruction of the west side of the Athens Acropolis 1873 at My Favourite Planet

Idealized reconstruction of the west side of the Athens Acropolis in the late Roman period,
showing the Roman fortifications of the Beulé Gate standing before the classical Propylaia.

By the French architect Louis Boitte (1830-1906).
Engraving published in Le Moniteur des architectes, Volume VII, 1873.
Article © David John
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