Client: Back-Roads Touring
Roman Ruins in France
There is a romantic allure to Roman ruins that make them some of the most spectacular historical sites in all of Europe. They’ve been weathered and battered by the throes of time, but they still stand as achievements of great engineering and architectural beauty. They provide a fleeting glimpse into Roman Civilization. A glimpse into their livelihoods, the gods they immortalised, their art, and their pastimes. It’s the closest we can get into a 2000-year-old Empire that ruled over an unprecedented landmass for over 5 centuries.
Roman ruins are dotted all throughout Europe and can appear in some of the most secluded and unlikely places, giving them a great sense of etherealness. Provence, in particular, enjoys a large bounty of Roman sites, a legacy of the conquest of Gaul (modern day France) in the second century. The Romans built aqueducts, bridges, roads, and settlements in order placate the logistical issues inherent within conquered territories. This was pivotal in the creation the French states that rose in the medieval era. This conquest was called “Provincia Romana” which eventually gave way to the modern incarnation of ‘Provence’.
Arles served as a bastion for Julius Ceaser in his struggles against Pompey in 46BC. In time, the settlement flourished into a great Roman city and many impressive structures from that era are still standing today. Most notable of these sites is the immense circular arena which dominates the landscape. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when walking among the weathered and beaten pillars and galleries that from this monumental structure. And while the organised barbarity of arena fighting has long vanished, every concrete block and shadow that characterise this structure exude an eerie and palpable atmosphere.
Arles has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1981, and it is frequently referred to as the “Little Rome of Gaul” for its wealth of Roman Ruins. Other than the arena, you can also visit the Alyscamps burial ground, Constantine baths, and the Cryptoporticus which is a semi-subterranean gallery.
Pont du Gard
The Pont Du Gard is a marvel of Roman architecture and engineering. Standing at 50 meters high and over 275 meters long, this aqueduct was built to cross the Gard river and to bring fresh water to Nimes. Spectacular from any angle, the aqueduct is symbiotic with the valley that it sits in, and looks remarkably natural. This aqueduct is listed as UNESCO heritage site since 1985, not only due to its technical merits but its artistic and aesthetical qualities. The Pont du Gard is a remarkable attraction, and as such, it is complete with a museum which contextualises the Roman world, by utilising reconstructions, artefacts, and models which will give you a deeper insight into the Roan era.
Nîmes is also home to a uniquely high concentration of Roman ruins, to such an extent that it owns the adage of ‘Rome of France’. It was settled by the Romans in between 128 BCE and 28 BCE after fierce battling with the native Gaulish tribes. There is over a dozen meticulously preserved Roman relics, but one of the most inspiring is the Maison Carrée which is regarded as the best preserved Roman temple in Europe. It is characterised by its blindingly white visage and it glows with authority in the Medertarianian sun. From a distance, you would not be able to tell that this monumental structure is 2000 years old, as it has remarkably managed to retain all its original fabric and artistic appeal.
Roman ruins imbue the imperial gusto of their forbearers and stand with an eerie ethereal endurance. Provence is home to some of the best-preserved monuments and are reminders of how Europe was forged. A visit to these revered sites will be an unforgettable experience.