Gentle and reassuring, Provence also has the heart of a conqueror! Reputed for its war strategies in Gallo-Roman times, it harbours an largely-unrivalled plethora of historical remains… In this open-air museum, all roads decidedly lead to Rome!
First digs at Vaison-la-Romaine
Vaison-la-Romaine owes its renown to a 17-acre Gallo-Roman site: the largest open-air archaeological site in France open to the public! The site is accessed via the Roman bridge and its unique arch, measuring 17 metres in length and 9 metres in width. For many years, this was the only passage between the two banks of the river Ouvèze. Next, head to Villasse and its iconic shopping street to discover the House of the Silver Bust and Roman baths. Another must-do is the Théo Desplans archaeological museum for a voyage through over 2,000 years of history, everyday life and traditions. The adventure continues with Puymin and the remains of its patrician houses stretching all the way to the hills… Last but not least, the Roman Theatre in Vaison hosts an international summer dance festival: Festival Vaison Danses, promising magical summer nights!
Orange the audacious
The spectacular stage wall measuring 103 metres in length and 37 metres in height leaves no room for doubt: you have arrived at Orange’s Roman Theatre. An audacious witness to Roman architectural genius, this still-intact wall boasts incredible acoustics… What better venue for the Chorégies d’Orange opera festival and its 10,000 spectators, seated in stands panning up the hillside… Step into the town via the main gate to discover the Triumphal Arch. Comprising three arches adorned with hexagonal motifs, it was considered for many years as the gateway to the world of the dead and a symbol for soldiers from the 2nd legion returning triumphant from battle! To wind up your tour, head to the 17th-century mansion house now converted into the Art & History Museum, plunging visitors into a voyage through time from the Middle Ages to the Roman era and exhibiting engravings, curiosities and various astonishing works such as the Centaur mosaic…
Nîmes the strategist...
On the way, Pont du Gard bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Monument, sets the mood for the marvels of ancient Provence that await. We can thank the Romans for their love of hot baths, without which monumental structures such as the aqueduct before you simply wouldn’t exist… Welcome to Nîmes! The Maison Carrée, a temple built in 1 AD and used for many different purposes over the ages, was the centrepiece of the town’s ancient Roman Forum. Tour Magne stands proudly over the plain on Mont Cavalier, a strategic military site and symbol of Roman power. And of course, the Amphitheatre, formerly used for gladiator fights, is an absolute must. It was THE favourite meeting place for the Gallo-Roman people. With its gigantic size and absolute symmetry it aptly reflects their obsession with perfection and thinking big… Today, it remains an exceptional site hosting major events and offering sweeping views over the town from the top of its ramparts. Memorable!
From Arles to Marseille: stay in the right camp
Nicknamed Little Rome by the Romans themselves, Arles is famed for its exceptional Roman amphitheatre. A UNESCO World Heritage monument, it is one of the 15 largest amphitheatres in the Roman world. A former entertainment venue, then a fortification used to protect the town, it bears the marks of various transformations. Take time to admire the regularity of the magnificent Allée des Alyscamps, the cryptoporticus – the forum’s hidden face – and magnificent Roman Theatre. Built in 1 BC and a typical example of Roman architecture, it is now a festive venue par excellence hosting traditional and artistic events such as the International Photography Festival. A must-do meeting since 1970, the festival strikes up astonishing contrasts between the town’s ancient sites and contemporary creations. Finish up in style with a visit to the Musée Départemental Arles Antique, home to the only known portrait of Julius Caesar. Magical!
It’s time to head to Marseille, but stop off on the way in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to explore the extraordinary Glanum achaeological site. The town’s indigenous population was colonized by the Romans in 1 AD then destroyed by Barbarians in circa 260. The invasions led to the construction of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence as we know it today, just 1 kilometre away. In Marseille, the Musée des Docks Romains welcomes visitors on the Old Port (Vieux-Port). Its exhibits include numerous amphoras – a testimony to the port’s renown and intense trading activities. Further on, just behind La Canebière, you’ll find the Marseille History Museum and its garden of remains harbouring remnants of ancient ships (Epave de la Bourse, Epave Jules Verne) and paving stones from the Roman Road dating back to 2 BC: a genuine open-air museum under the sunny skies of Marseille!