Being in the south of France puts history at your step. I must admit history was never my forte. I’ve had a lot to learn. For example, the Medieval period and Middle Ages are exchangeable terms in European history. This time period refers to the end of the Roman Empire until the beginning of the Renassaince, around AD 500 – 1500. Prior to this time, the Roman Empire encompassed all of Southern Europe and more. So, it’s actually no great surprise to see so much evidence of the Roman influence along with Medieval buildings in this area of France. And that’s my history lesson for today.
Some of the main strongholds of Rome are cities within an easy drive from Pierrelatte. Places such as the Pont du Gard aqueduct, Orange, Vaison la Romaine, and Avignon. I’ll share a bit about some of the villages and sites around here.
Pont du Gard is a well preserved Roman aqueduct built around 19 BC. It is believed to have provided 9,000,000 gallons of water a day to Nimes, one of the largest cities of the time. Imagine that!
The river also flows under the aqueduct. It is possible to have access to all three levels of the bridge, if you get to the site in time for the tour. I missed it! The last group came through as I rushed to the top.
When we left Pierrelatte it was cold and windy. When we arrived at Pont du Gard, it was warm, no wind, we stripped off scarves and sweaters. We had no idea it would be a good day for a swim on the beach opposite.
Another amazing site from the Roman Empire is in the village of Orange. As you enter this city, you are ‘greeted’ by a Roman arch that looks like the ‘Arc de Triomph’ in Paris. The Orange arch is said to have inspired Napolein’s Arc de Triomph in Paris. This arch in Orange was erected in 19 AD.
Another relic of Rome in Orange is the theatre. This structure was built early in the first century AD. It’s the best preserved Roman theatre in Europe and the only one with it’s acoustic wall still standing. Theatre was one of the ways of spreading the Roman culture to the colonies of the empire, keeping the locals entertained and happy. Everyone went to the theatre. Of course your seat was based on your social status. Sometimes performances lasted a full day.
The theatre was closed for long periods beginning in AD 391 and used for military operations, housing for townspeople and even a prison. During the 19th century efforts to recover the theatre began. These have continued and the theatre is still in use today.
Vaison la Romaine is a village split in two by the Ouveze River. A Roman bridge connects the newer area of the village, which is home to a large Roman ruin site, to the old hilltop area of the village. The original Roman town was as large as the village of today. Much of today’s village has been built atop the Roman ruins.
The ruins in Vaison la Romaine are home to another ancient Roman theatre which seats 6,000 compared to the 10,000 capacity of the Orange theatre. Vaison la Romaine’s theatre is also lacking the acoustic wall. However, as in Orange, the theatre is still in use today.
Headed to the theatre.
The Roman Bridge connecting to the hill-top village is a 55 foot Roman arch built in the first century. This bridge has survived floods that have wiped out newer construction.
Doug took a break as I hiked up through the old village. As in most old walled, medieval villages the cobbled streets are very narrow. At the top of the hill was the Chateau Comtal. This was once the home of a prince-bishop who had the hilltop chateau built here in the 12th century to escape an attack by the Count of Toulouse. The townspeople followed and built homes within the wall under the chateau for protection. It’s quiet and picturesque.
Yes, vineyards are everywhere.