Exploring the Roman past in Southern France

posted in: France | 28

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.

Nimes, France, Roman
Outside Nimes Arena – which is still used today for bull fighting
Nimes, France, Roman
A view from the top looking down into Nimes Arena
Nimes, France, Roman
Nimes Arena
Nimes, France, Roman
Maison Carrée – Restored Roman temple dedicated to ‘princes of youth’, with richly decorated columns & friezes
Nimes, France, Roman
La Tour Magne – 18m stone watchtower, part of the Roman city wall from the Augustinian era, with panoramic views.
Nimes, France, Roman
Le temple de l’aire de Caissargues

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.

Pont du Gard, France, Roman
Pont du Gard aqueduct

ArlesNot 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.

Arles, France, Roman
Arles -Obélisque d’Arles in front of the town hall
Arles, France, Roman
Inside Arles Arena
Arles, France, Roman
A view of the rooftops of Arles from the Arena

Orangelocated 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).

Orange, France, Roman
The Arc du Tromphie in Orange
Orange, France, Roman
Inside the Roman theatre – Orange

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28 Responses

  1. I’ve been to the coliseum in Nimes and the one in Arles, along with the Pont du Gard. I really enjoyed reading your post and seeing your photos, and re-living my memories of my visits. Thanks for sharing!
    Tami recently posted…Faces of Thailand (the stories behind the people I met)

  2. I had no idea there is/was bullfighting in France! Nimes looks like a great place to explore for history buffs.
    Tamara Elliott recently posted…A grand European adventure with Air Transat: London and Portugal

  3. Looks like an untouched part of France. Great pics to go with the post. They have a beautiful countryside in France. Would love to visit them some day.
    Gokul Raj recently posted…Quirky Table Manners from around the World

  4. Beautiful photos to show the range of roman historical sites in this area. One aspect of exploring these that I particularly like is how uncrowded the sites are, as compared to the famous ones in Rome and elsewhere. You really have the chance to appreciate the buildings and imagine life a couple of thousand years ago!
    Kavey Favelle recently posted…Hong Kong’s Tai Po Market | A Walking Food Tour

  5. You always share such interesting histories about the places you visit! It’s great to learn what these structures were used for during the Roman empire to have more of an appreciation for them now. It’s especially cool that the amphitheatre in Nimes is still in use today!

  6. Wow Danik. No clue in Hades this region or any region of France had a Roman Empire influence .But that arena in Nimes may as well have been in Rome, from its classic appearance. Looks like something out of Gladiator, with its size and scale and the fact it seems to be preserved darn well. Excellent post guys.
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…BFP Podcast Episode 23: 1 Common Travel Blog Monetizing Mistake (Or Any Blog)

  7. Wow. Thanks for the quick history lesson and photos about the Roman heritage in the South of France. Been seeing the Port du Gard in a lot or travel posts lately and at first glance reminded me of the aque ducts. Would love to see it in real life!

  8. I had no idea and would had never guessed! It looks like an undiscovered part of France that definitely needs more attention and deserves to be visited!
    Claudia recently posted…6 Photos to Inspire You To Visit Toronto’s Graffiti Alley

  9. This is so cool! It’s really impressive that some of their structures are still standing. I love exploring historical places when I travel, but I had no idea there was so much Roman history in France.

  10. I always love the images you two take! The Arles Arena and Roman theatre are magnificent!

  11. Such an interesting post I had no idea about the Romans in France. That areana looks like the colosseum. Such beautiful areas. Was great to learn more about these towns

  12. This is so stunning! I didn’t make it to see the Roman ruins in France, but it’s on my list for next time! I loved seeing them in Rome!

  13. WOW! By looking at your pictures of Nimes Arena I actually got confused if this was about Rome or France. It looks fantastic and I had no idea it is still used today for bull fighting. thanks, for sharing this.
    Archana Singh recently posted…5 Best Northern California Road Trips to bolster your soul

  14. Isn’t it amazing to find out all the places that those Romans made their mark? I love the south of France and have visited most of the places you mention. The Pont du Gard is one of our favorite sites from around the world…it’s huge and amazing!
    Corinne recently posted…Secret and Stunning Places Around Europe To Put On Your Bucket List Part One

  15. What a great write up. Nimes looks just stunning. That stadium is amazing. Shame about the bull fighting. We loved Arles too, such a gorgeous little town with so much history like all of these places you’ve featured. You’ve made me want to hit the road again in France.
    Skye Gilkeson recently posted…20 Photos to Inspire You to Travel to Mykonos

  16. I’ve still never been to France! This post really makes me want to go. It looks incredible. I hope to make it there soon.
    Nathan recently posted…Nepal: More Than Everest

  17. What a beautiful place to explore! I love seeing sites from history like this!
    Brianna recently posted…Indulging in Indy: A Self-Guided Indianapolis Sweets Tour

  18. Absolutely! I always loved the history lessons about the land of Gaul as part of the Roman Empire. History buffs go nuts in places like Arles or Orange. Beautifully preserved, with additional history layered over. Nice report.

  19. I had no idea this even existed in southern France. I would love to check this out, I love Roman architecture and colosseums so much.
    Ania recently posted…REROUTING TO LUBECK: A GUIDE TO LUBECK WITH PHOENICIA

  20. I didn’t know this existed in Provence! I would love to see the arena, and the theatre, they are both really impressively intact.

  21. I had no idea that France had so many impressive Roman ruins. And I used to live there! The arena and the bridge are amazing. All of it seems so well preserved and quiet, too.
    Emily recently posted…Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre: an ethical sanctuary

  22. Wow, so many Roman ruins in one city! Lokkes like an interesting little town. I did not know, it was there in the beautiful Provence.

  23. Wow, I already had Provence on my list for the beautiful lavender fields but I didn’t know about all these Roman wonders. Now I will definitely rush to visit southern France with even more interest. Lovely 🙂
    Julie recently posted…Top 10 romantic things to do in Florence, Italy

  24. This is so interesting! I had no idea this was here! I will definitely need to make an effort to visit! Thanks for sharing x

  25. In Southern France?! Those Romans really got around 😉 How cool!

  26. I have seen very little of France and your post inspires me to see more of it. Orange outdoor Roman theater looks stunning. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Wow that’s interesting places, Romans left so many beautiful buildings, might felt like your just wandering somewhere in Italy not France

  28. Sandy N Vyjay

    Have always been fascinated by Roman history. But Southern France seems to be a slice of Rome too. The Colosseum is something that has always held an intriguing aura for me, and it was a dream come true when I stood before it in Rome. It is only later that I came to know that there are arenas built along the same lines elsewhere too.

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