Posted by: David Stewart | June 28, 2013

Massive works of old Rome in southern France

These are from some notes I took from our Spring 2013 trip

Pont du Gard, France

The Pont du Gard

Thursday, May 9

We checked out of our Montpellier hotel and headed out on the road.  My general plan had started out kind of murky – we knew we could leave Montpellier on the 9th of May and were flying out of Paris on the 20th. What we did in between was the subject of much teeth-grinding. What I finally ended up with was:

Pont du Gard, France

Pont du Gard

  • Two days Provence
  • One day in Lyon
  • Three days in Burgundy
  • Three days in Champagne
  • One day close to the Paris airport

I set things up this way to make a natural progression from the south of France up through wine country and ending in Paris.

On our way to Provence, we stopped by the Pont du Gard. We kind of had a bit of a navigation mishap and arrived in the town of Pont du Gard rather than the UNESCO World Heritage site. Fortunately we were able to follow this signs and make it there successfully.

Pont du Gard, France

Pont du Gard Museum

The Pont du Gard has a really fantastic underground museum, charting the development of the Roman aqueduct system around their world, how the Nimes aqueduct was designed and built, how long it lasted, what was the impact on civic life in Nimes of a ready water supply, what the various parts of the system looked like, etc. Probably more information than was reasonable to absorb, so we took a couple of hours to walk through before seeing the bridge itself.

The park is set up quite nicely for a major reveal of ancient structure. There are actually two approaches (one on each side of the Gard river). The museum is on the north side, which I think might be the left side. Signage here is good, and more predictable than a GPS navigator: our Android-based phone sent us to the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard rather than the historic site.

Orange, France

Roman Theater, Orange

Afterwards we drove on to Provence and the town of Orange. My goal was to visit Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but our guidebook had good comments on staying in Orange instead. It’s much smaller and there is less traffic and parking hassle to deal with. They also have a wonderful ancient Roman theater there.

Our room in Orange was reserved at the Hotel Saint Jean, which is just around the corner from the Roman Theater. The hotel building itself was suitably ancient – the back wall of which seemed to be an old retaining wall against the same hill as the theater was built in. Our room was a snaking spiraling climb up two flights of stairs and over into an adjoining building. It was somewhat small, but comfortable and with good bathroom equipment for such an old building.

Orange, France

Hotel St Jean, Orange

After checking in, we walked over to the see the theater itself. Unfortunately since we got there an hour before closing, they wouldn’t let us have the free audio guide, I suppose because it would take us too long to take that tour. The theater structure was pretty much demolished except for the 100 foot tall stage wall. This wall survived, when so many of the Roman theaters didn’t even have that remaining. This wall survived primarily because the later medieval city of Orange used it as the supporting structure for houses. More recently, the people of Orange realized that the theater was worth preserving, so they gradually kicked out people who lived in the part of the city which was built on top of it. Once the houses were empty, they were carefully demolished and the old seats replaced.

Orange, France

Roman Theater, Orange

Even so, the restored Roman theater in Orange is a mere shadow of the structure which once stood there. Records indicate that there were a number of statues and columns on the stage wall; today there is only a statue of a Roman emperor. In spite of that, the theater is magnificent and worth the walk through. The little town center has several reasonable hotels, a number of good restaurants and a nice park on top of the hill behind the theater for strolling.


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