Port of Fourmis, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France
Оn a rocky peninsula projecting into the Mediterranean, archaeologist Theodore Reinach built a caprice – a folly – at the beginning of this century. This waterside house exactly reconstructs a Greek house of the second century BC.
Reinach built the house at the foot of dramatic cliffs on a coast which, he said, reminded him of the coast of Corinth. He worked with architect Emmanuel Pontromoli, one of his colleagues at the Academy of Beaux-Arts in Paris, and was aided by various specialists in Classical studies and building crafts: fresco painting, stucco working, marble and bronze working and furniture making. Although Reinach wanted modern comforts as well, such as electricity, running water and a telephone service, the materials and features are otherwise true to period, except for the glass windows, which in Antiquity would have been of oiled papyrus.
During his regular vacations to the spot, Reinach dressed in Classical Greek style – as did his guests. Neither megalomaniac nor eccentric, he was from a wealthy, educated family, a member of the class of scholarly gentlemen like Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel, all of them rich, knowledgeable and poetically inclined.
The architecture plan of the house is based on one built in ancient times for a wealthy citizen of Delos. Around the atrium patio, the principal rooms – a library, dining-room and living-room – are distributed on the ground floor, and the bedrooms, baths and studies are found on the first floor. Next to the triklinos, or dining-room, is the living- room or grand salon, which, Vitruvius tells us, was reserved for use by men. The salon’s interior is spectacular, with walls painted to simulate Tuscan marble and a mosaic representing Theseus slaying the Minotaur. The ‘Classical’ furniture – tables, seats, a bed and also a throne for the master bath – are made of exotic woods, bronze and ivory. An altar of Carrara marble is also located in the salon, and on each side of it, doors give access to the oikos, a very small, personal salon which opens to the garden by means of a large glazed door. From here, a beautiful view unfolds to the charming port of Fourmis.
The Mediterranean setting and view of the sea are key to the house’s design. The garden, some of the windows and the terraces offer views of the coast from Cap Ferrat to Monaco. Also open to the vast marine horizon, the library windows are orientated to the east to permit working in the morning hours. The library occupies the height of a floor and a half with a gallery space. The most lofty view from the house is from the two roof terraces with pergolas.
Reinach died in 1928, and his house was classified as a historic monument in 1966, when it was left to the Institute of France, a group of five academies dedicated to letters and the arts and sciences. Since 1967, the house has been open to the public. The Villa Kerylos is the most remarkable reconstruction of an ancient Greek dwelling in modern times. No museum in Greece itself evokes the daily life of its ancient citizens so completely. The house represents an entirely accurate evocation of ancient furniture, mosaics and frescoes – all creating a striking image of a timeless seaside hideaway.