Roman Provence:’Only in Provence’ Part 6
Way back around 50 B.C., Julius Caesar conquered Gaul (now France) and the area remained part of the Roman Empire for the next five centuries. Today there remain Roman sites all over France, but many of the best are in and around Provence. In fact, ‘Provence’ comes from the Latin ‘Provincia Romana’, the name of the large Roman province along the Mediterranean coast.
Let’s take a look at six of these Roman sites:
Roman site #1—Nîmes
A good place to start is the city of Nîmes, once known as “the most Roman city outside of Italy.” In its center is a Roman arena, one of the largest in the world. It is also one of the world’s best-preserved and is still in use today, for events ranging from concerts to mock Roman gladiator battles.
Near the arena is the Maison Carrée, one of the world’s most perfect Roman temples. It has been cleaned in recent years and is once again sparkling white, like back in Roman times. Further on is the Tour Magne, a massive tower that was once part of the city’s fortifications.
Tying it all together is the recently-opened Roman history museum, across the street from the arena. It has some of the best mosaics outside of Pompeii, as well as many interactive displays that bring the ancient city to life—be sure to check out the one that lets you “dress like a Roman.”
Roman site #2—Pont du Gard
Not far away is the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct, part of the system that brought water to the baths and fountains of ancient Nîmes. This aqueduct spans the Gard River and is built in three levels—it’s as tall as an 18-story building! Next door is a museum that explains the history of the Roman water system. And for a cool excursion on a hot day, consider a kayak trip down the Gard River, floating under the Pont du Gard itself.
Roman site #3—Arles
Another important Roman city was Arles, a major trading post on the shores of the Rhône River. Like Nîmes, it has a large arena—still in use—as well as a Roman theater and a sprawling Roman necropolis called the Alyscamps.
A few years ago, scientists dredged the Rhône for artifacts and made some remarkable finds, including the world’s best bust of Julius Caesar and a Roman barge over 100 feet long. These and other discoveries can be found in the Arles Antiquity Museum.
Roman site #4—St-Rémy-de-Provence / Glanum
While St-Rémy is famous as the place where Van Gogh stayed in a mental institution, it is also the site of an important Roman city called Glanum. The remains of this town sit just outside the modern city, along with a large triumphal arch and a mausoleum collectively known as Les Antiques. Glanum sits at the foot of the rugged Alpilles Mountains, making for a striking setting.
Roman site #5—Orange
In the north of Provence, the Roman theater of Orange includes a 120-foot-tall wall so lovely that King Louis XIV called it “the most beautiful in my kingdom.” It is famous for its summer concerts featuring opera, classical music, and other lyric art performances, part of the oldest music festival in France.
Orange also has a gigantic triumphal arch (think Arc de Triomphe in Paris) and a museum of Roman art and history.
Roman site #6—Vaison-la-Romaine
Further north from Orange, Vaison-la-Romaine boasts the ruins of a Roman town, an ancient Roman bridge, and a well-preserved Roman theater. Vaison is unusual in the way the Roman, medieval, and modern towns spanning 2,000 years of history lie so close together.
Have you visited these Roman sites in Provence? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below.
Nîmes Tourist Office: https://www.nimes-tourisme.com/en/
Nîmes Roman History Museum: https://museedelaromanite.fr/en/
Pont du Gard: https://www.pontdugard.fr/en
Arles Tourist Office: https://www.arlestourisme.com/en/
Arles Antiquity Museum: http://www.arles-antique.cg13.fr/mdaa_cg13/root/index.htm
Orange Tourist Office: https://www.orange-tourisme.fr/en
Vaison-la-Romaine Tourist Office: http://www.vaison-ventoux-tourisme.com/en.html
- Nîmes arena: via Nîmes Tourist Office, photo credit OT Nîmes
- Nîmes Maison Carrée: photo credit OT Nîmes
- Pont du Gard: photo credit OT Nîmes
- Julius Caesar: Arles Antiquity Museum, photo credit Remi Benali / MDAA
- Glanum: Creative Commons License, attribution Marc Ryckaert
- Orange: Orange Tourist Office, photo credit Grand Angle
- Vaison-la-Romaine, Tourist Office
Only in Provence
There is much to celebrate and experience in Provence.
This series sets out to create a collection of highlights – unique features and experiences to be had in Provence.
Use this series to create your very own must-do list.
Only in Provence Part 1 – Brilliant Roussillon
Only in Provence Part 2 – Carrières de Lumières
Only in Provence Part 3 – Provence legends
Only in Provence Part 4 – Surprising history of Jewish Provence
Only in Provence Part 5 – The Animal Kingdom of Provence
Only in Provence Part 6 – Roman Provence (this one)