Sunday, February 24, 2013

Roman ruins in Provence around Saint Remy de Provence

The Roman in Provence for old stones’ addicts.

Provence is of course the region in France where you’ll find most interesting roman ruins since it was invaded before the rest of France.

The Region, known as “la Narbonnaise” seemed extremely important to the romans (I believe they considered it as one of their supermarket provider). And loads of former soldiers were given a plot of land in the region when they retired.

The beauty of the ruins is that they are multiple and you get a different feeling in all the places you’ll visit. 

The following is of course not exhaustive, will concentrate on the region around St Remy/Avignon. And the comments are my own. I am passionate about history but always prefer to present history as something fun and lively, so this is history seen by me and not a teacher.

Arles should be your starting point.

The museum of Arles Antique is a brand modern museum which will offer you the most precise idea of Roman life. It is built on the ruins of the old circus (horse race arena).
Scale models will show you how the city of Arles looked like at different periods and you will get to see how the monuments really were. The rest of the visit will show you daily life items found while researching (cookery, jewel and beauty product, etc) as well as the lead pipe used as water pipes, floor “mosaïque” and you’ll end up the visit in a graveyard with plenty of luxury coffins used by the rich and famous to depict their life. I fell that the museum is kids’ friendly as well. Allow at least an hour. I could stay for a day myself….

Off to Arles centre (about 10/15mn walk)
When César and Pompée where having their political fights, Arles took side for César while Marseille took side for César. So, when César won….. Arles got the biggest part of the cake and became an extremely important city.
The beauty of Arles, compared to Avignon for example, is that the city was not entirely destroyed after the Barbarians’ invasion and most of the major monuments were kept. The arena for example was turned into a village with houses built inside. It was only in the mid 19th century that the arena got back to its former glory. (In Avignon, all the stone were used to build the Palaces of the Cardinal).
In Arles, you have to see the Arena, the Theatre, The spa house (well a third of it), the forum entrance. All buildings are located in the very centre. The graveyard (Les Alyscamps) is located a short walk away.
Allow 2/3hrs to visit the centre (not considering shopping time or discovery of history from other period which is galore)…. Well please have a look at the Reattu Museum, former Prieuré of the Ordre de Malte built in the late XVth century.

Glanum in Saint Remy de Provence (25km about 20mn drive from Avignon)
When the allamans invaded ad destroyed Glanum its inhabitants decided to rebuilt the village of St Remy further down in the Valley. Lucky us !
Excavating works of Glanum, when re-discovered, started in 1921. The road which was passing right on the site was diverted and you can now enjoy a proper idea of “what how a roman city looked like”. You may need to use your imagination since most of the stone were taken away and reused to build the new village, but you’ll get a clear idea of the dimension, the settings and the layout of a city.
Some ruins from the Greek’s glory time can also be seen.
You visit will lead you inside the forum, the spa house, the market square and a couple of Private house (amongst other place). And you can finish in a roman restaurant “La Taberna Romana” (owner currently changing) where you can taste some roman dishes (or just look at the menu to see what was eaten in those time).
Allow 1h30 for the visit. Don’t forget a bottle of water and a cap. On sunny and warm day, avoid afternoon.

Vaison la Romaine (75km North of St Remy, about 1h10 mn drive)
The answer reveals itself in the name. Probably one the jewel of roman ruins….
If you are lucky enough to come in July, book yourself a seat in the antique theatre while the Danse festival is on! Other shows are happening all year round and that is an experience. Don’t forget to bring a jumper (it might get chilly when wind starts blowing) and a cushion to seat on (no comment but stones are hard!).
The two roman sites give you a chance to wander through the villa side of the city. Grand Mansion….. Visit a kichen, a dining room, a marbled floor private office, get to a shopping street (where one of the house was believed to be an “easy ladies” house…..), my favorite being the latrine of a private house. Those toilets could admit 5 people at a time and was also opening onto the street since the latrines were also considered as at chatting place….. well well!

Pont Du Gard (about 45mn drive from St Remy)
The JEWEL of roman’s wonder. Not much to say but plenty to see…. The museum is also worth a visit as depicting in a friendly way daily life in roman time. The Aqueduc is just a part of the 50km long water-canal, bringing water from Uzes to nimes. This is the second most visited site in France (outside of Paris) after the Mont Saint Michel. So you won’t be on your own….
Entrance to site is free but Car Park fees are of 18€. The site is open all year round with Fireworks in June and music festival in Summer time.

Other sites
Orange and its monumental Theatre still in use (Classical Musique festival in July Les Choregies d’Orange as well as all type of concert in summer time)
Pont Saint Julien in the Luberon, nr Bonnieux & Menerbes (one of the only roman bridge still standing)
The Roman garden  in Caumont sur Durance near avignon
Cavaillon and its arch.
Further away
Nimes another jewel, competing with Arles….

And when visiting with a local, you’ll get to see probably some hidden site… (In St Remy some spot of the Aqueduc bringing the water to Arles, the remain of the Via Domitia a former roman roads)….

 The "Walking Map" of the Antique Arles Museum

The Arena Sept 2012 evening...

Works around the arena February 23rd 2013

Musee Reattu, river side view

 The roman site of Glanum. "Old stones...."

 The entrance to Glanum, l'Arc de Triomphe (April 2012)

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