Did you know the Provence region in France has a fantastic Roman Empire history? The small area featured in this post has quite a few buildings which are well preserved and still in use today. The towns of Nimes, Arles, Orange and the surrounding countryside is an area to check these beautiful structures and learn a lot about the Roman history. Here is our lowdown on what to see (and where to find them).
Nimes – this beautiful town became a Roman colony around 28BC and became an important centre for business. There was a wall surrounding the city but most of it has disappeared apart from two gates which still stand today. In the heart of the city is the Maison Carrée which is one of the best preserved temples from that era and now hosts a museum with a mini cinema inside. Nearby is the amphitheatre which dates back to 2AD and is still in use today where bullfighting and concerts usually take place. Also a short walk from the tower to the top of Mont Cavalier is the Tour Magne (Great Tower) which is the ruins of a Roman watch tower.
On the outskirts of the city in a nearby rest area on the A54 (southbound) at Aire de Caissargues is the remains of a theatre which is known as ‘Le temple de l’Aire de Caissargues’. It makes a great stop from a long drive, to stretch the legs and walk around this pretty building which is a few feet away from the car park.
Pont du Gard – This aqueduct crossing the Gardon River is one of the preserved in the world (along with the aqueduct of Segovia in Spain) and is the highest elevated. The aqueduct is part of a 50km system built way back in 1Ad to carry water from the springs near Uzes to the town of Nimes, just south of here. Now an UNESCO world heritage site, the aqueduct does have a visitor centre and is now one of the most visited sites in France. There are also plenty of hiking routes along the river and places to take a picnic and relax.
Arles – Not far from Nimes is the town of Arles which also has a lot of Roman history. The town hosts an outdoor theatre and baths, the main sight is the amphitheatre which is very well preserved and still in use, like Nimes for bullfighting and concerts. Outside the main town there is the ‘Arles Obelisk’, standing 20 meters high and has stood in the city since 3AD. One of the best things to do here is to overlook the rooftops, the nearby river and square from the top of the amphitheatre, the views is quite nice and pleasant underneath the sunshine.
Orange – located north of the largest town of the region, Avignon, Orange boasts the most impressive outdoor Roman theatre in Europe, (Théâtre antique d’Orange). Built in the 1st century, the theatre was used for mimes, pantomimes and poetry reading which were performed nearly every minute of the day and was free for the locals to come and see. Standing at the top of the theatre, looking down at the main stage is one of the most impressive I ever have seen and the day I came, I saw a local perform with a guitar. Watching this, I was probably feeling the same as the locals who were watching performances from the Roman era, the feeling being happy, calm and relaxed. On the outskirts of the centre is the Arc de triomphe d’Orange, a triumphal arch which was built during the time Augustus ruled the empire (27BC – 14AD), and is to honour the guys who lost their lives in the Gallic Wars (a war with tribes from Northern France and Belgium).
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