Jamie Ivey the author of the Moon Guide to Provence selects his top 5 Roman sights in Provence. The selection is a personal one, based upon the visitor experience.
1. Arles Arena
The twentieth largest Roman Arena in the world, built in AD90 and modelled on the Colosseum in Rome. In its day it could accommodate over 20,000 spectators for a gladiatorial contest. It has 120 arches and stretches for 136 metres. Visit early in the morning to let your imagination run wild – the crying gladiators, the roaring lions, the shouting crowd. There are few places in the world where it is possible to channel the ancient Rome vibe in such a fashion.
2. The Theatre Orange
Today’s stars have it easy. Deliver a lousy performance and they might get a gentle pep-talk from the director. Back in Roman times, most actors were slaves, and a slave who gave a bad performance could expect a beating from his master. At least female actors didn’t have to worry about forgetting their lines, it’s generally agreed they weren’t permitted to speak. As for the role of theatrical performances in Roman life, either they were to distract the masses from political activity or to encourage expression of political thought in a harmless fashion. Academic study of Roman Theatre continues to explore why performances took place, who performed, and who watched, and central to the understanding of the art form is the theatre in Orange. Built around 1BC It is the only Roman theatre in the world whose stage wall is still standing.
3. The Roman Sites, Vaison La Romaine
The main Roman remains are a few minutes walk from the bridge on either side of Rue Burrus. The two different Roman neighbourhoods, named Puymin and Vilasse are visible from the road. Visitors can walk amid the ruins of Roman streets and examine up close the floor plans of houses, including bathing rooms and the remains of mosaic tiles. On the Puymin site there is also a museum which holds decorative articles and tools discovered during the dig, as well as a Roman theatre which is testament to the wealth of Vaison at the time.
4. The Arles Archeological Museum
The big idea behind the museum is the Romanization of Gaul, in other words, how the Romans, came, saw, conquered and then made the place feel like home. To really understand Arles and its Roman links, a visit to the archeological museum is essential. Year on year the museum grows. In 2013 a 31 meter Roman barge was added following its discovery on the Rhone river bed. The barge dates back to the years 50/60AD. Outside the museum there is also a new Roman inspired garden ‘Hortus’ which has an independent entrance and for which there is no admission fee.
4. The Pont Julien, Bonnieux
I can almost hear the howls of anguish? What of Glanum? What of the Roman Dock Museum in Marseille? The Theatre in Arles….etc…Well I think this small little bridge is an amazing survivor and merits its place in my top 5. Built in 3BC across the Calavon river it was carrying traffic until 2005. Think about it while every other Roman remain was busy crumbling, this Pont, which first carried Roman soldiers making their way from Italy to Spain, was still in working order. Oh and in spring and autumn, it’s a lovely place to have a picnic, and dip your feet in the water.
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