Gallo-Roman France

Beautiful monuments and archeological sites from a great historic epic: impressive mosaics, great arenas, a one-of-a-kind aqueduct and rich museum collections are witness to the once flourishing civilization that existed between the first and fourth centuries. The great crossroads, the major cities in the south, the numerous monuments along with a multitude of well-preserved ruins illustrate the influence of the Roman Empire on Gaul. A Gallo-Roman culture that is a mixture of two peoples and two lifestyles where numerous examples of architecture and civil engineering still exist today.

The cities and sites in the Narbonnaise province

After Gaul was conquered by Rome, the empire created the prosperous and prestigious Narbonnaise province in the southern Mediterranean. The province covered the regions of Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and the Rhone Valley. It was crisscrossed by the great commercial and strategic routes (via Domitia, Via Aurelia, Via Agrippa: from Gap to Perpignan, from Nice to Lyon) that resulted in many cities such as Nîmes, Vienne and Narbonne.

  • Narbonne (Aude-Roussillon)

Even though Narbonne (External link) gave its name to the province and was the seat of government, the capital of Aude department does not have many ruins. The city posses beautiful stones though, a Horreum—a type of underground arcades that served as a Roman forum. There are also marble cobblestones that was part of the celebrated Domitia route connecting Rome to the Iberian peninsula via the alpine hills and the Durance Valley in Provence. The archeological museum displays many antique objects from the region.

  • Arles (Camargue-Provence)

Founded in 46 BC by Julius Caesar on the banks of the Rhone River, overlooking the Camargue, the colony flourished under Constantine. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arles still has evidence of the forum and arcades that can be seen in the later-built medieval buildings around the Saint-Trophime cathedral.

It was also known as "the Little Rome of Gaul" because of the theater, baths and amphitheater that, with two arched levels, could hold 20,000 people. The amphitheater is still used today for performances, especially bullfighting. The Arles Museum holds many Gallo-Roman antiquities. Along with the proximity of the Monmajour Abbey and being the site where Van Gogh painted over 300 paintings, Arles has much to offer.

  • Nîmes (Gard-Languedoc)

Originally called Nemausus, Nîmes sits at the fool of a hill, on the via Domitia. It was an opulent city of 20,000 people under the rule of Augustus and his successors in the first century. Nîmes (External link) has one of the best preserved amphitheaters that is the same impressive size as the one in Arles. The competition between the two cities was the reason for the many monuments. The famous Maison Carrée, the central temple of the forum, is known not so much for its style, but for the integrity of its architecture and the interior houses superb Gallo-Roman mosaics. (side note: Thomas Jefferson's design of the Virginia State House was inspired by the Maison Carrée.) The Tour de Magne is perched on the highest point in the city and is evidence of the massive defense system of the Romans. The Castellum, a receptacle tank at the end of the 50-foot canal that carried water to the city, was a rare type of Roman architecture. Other things to be discovered in Nîmes include the Temple of Diane covered with a luxurious vegetation and the Gardens of the Source (designed in the 18th century).

  • Le Pont du Gard – a unique aqueducs (Gard, Languedoc)

The bridge over the Gard River is part of an aqueduct built by the Romans that carried water using gravity from Uzès to Nîmes, some thirty miles in distance. The Pont du Gard (External link) is constructed of three arched levels, it is 360 m long and 49 m high. It took 15 years to build and was completed in 60 AD. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and along with its recently opened museum, is considered a must-see.

  • Orange (Vaucluse – Provence)

Forty kilometers north of Avignon, the charming small town of Orange (External link) is located along the Rhone River at an important crossroad of the via Agrippa. The Arc of Triumph from the first century is completely intact and is one of the preserved of it kind. The Roman amphitheatre from the same period is the only one to still have the original stage wall and statues. It hold 7000 spectators and is home to the annual Chorégies festival.

  • Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse - Provence)

At the foot of the famous Mont Ventoux, this picturesque town of Vaison-la-Romaine has a 15th-century medieval section, 4th-century Roman ruins and an archeological site. The pont romain – the 2000-year old Roman bridge has one arch over the Ouvèze canyon and with the exception of its parapet, survived a devastating flood in 1992. The Quartier Puymun is a site on the edge of town where excavations have found ruins, statues, colonnades, mosaics and a theatre of 6000 seats (1st – 3rd centuries).

  • Vienne (Drôme – Rhône-Alpes)

Just south of Lyon, capital of Gaul, Vienne (External link) developed at a site along the Rhone with an easy crossing. On the right bank the archeological museum of Saint-Romain-en-Gal shows remarkable examples of the urban life of the Romans including the canal and transportation systems. On the left bank the city of Vienne is set against a hilly backdrop. In the heart of the city is the 20 m pyramid from the 4th century and the temple of Augustus and Livia along with the amphitheater that is home to the famous Jazz à Vienne festival.

  • Glanum/Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (Bouches du Rhône – Provence)

The Glanum site in a valley at the foot of the Alpilles was first Celtic-Ligurian, then Greek and finally Roman.The stratus of the ruins bear witness to the complex structures of the urban site and the evolution of the different periods. Nearby Saint-Rémy (External link) is best known as the birthplace of Nostradamus and home to Vincent Van Gogh where he painted some of his most extraordinary work.

  • Aix-en-Provence (Bouches du Rhône – Provence)

The hot springs of Sextius first attracted the Celtic-Ligurian Salyens, then the Romans. The city is ideally situated on the via Aurelia (along the Mediterranean coast) at the foot of the famous Mont Saint-Victoire. Aix (External link) later became an influential center of art. It is a charming city with a flamboyant past but little is left of the ancient baths. A recent discovery has revealed what is believed to be a Roman amphitheatre that is still being excavated.

  • Marseille (Bouches du Rhône - Provence)

Founded by Greek discoverers, Massalia was developed by the Romans. The collection of amphora of the surprising Roman Docks Museum (hidden under an apartment building) give evidence of the importance of the maritime traffic of the time at Marseille (External link) . Like the paved routes, the coastal navigation also assured the influence of the Romans in the Mediterranean.

  • Fréjus (Var – Côte d'Azur)

As a popular beach resort on the sunny Riviera, the riches of Fréjus are not the first thing you see. Along with its medieval history, there are several Roman vestiges such as ruins from an aqueduct, a theatre, ramparts, an city gate and the amphitheatre that is now used for concerts.

Other Works of Art and Monuments

Provence is filled with Roman sites, though not urban, but still very important—they are unsuspected treasures.

  • The Pont Flavien in Saint-Chamas (near Arles), is decorated with statues of lions and crosses a simple stream.

  • The Trophée d'Auguste à la Turbie near Monaco is a spectacular monument perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. It was built as a homage to Augustus, nephew of Julius Caesar.

  • The watermill of Barbegal, near Fontvielle illustrates the incredible industrial genius of the Romans. The 16-wheel mill provided enough flour for the city of Arles with a population of 10,000 people.

And to the North of Gaul

  • Aix-les-Bains (Savoie)

Aquae was created around 120 BC at a hot water spring at the foot of Mont Revard and on the banks of a lake. The water circulation system was very sophisticated for the Roman baths. Vestiges can be seen the current bath house in Aix-les-Bains (External link) . The arc de Campanus is also a reminder of the grand period of the city pampered by the Gallo-Romans and their art de vivre.

  • Montmaurin (Pyrénées)

Dating from the first century, this Gallo-Roman "villa" was discovered in 1496 in le Comminges, near Saint-Guadens about 80 km south of Toulouse. The patrician "villa" a large-scale farm, made a fortune for its owner and generated a center of life, a social organization and created towns. Montmaurin is one of the largest domains of the part of Gaul. It buildings were on 19 hectares of land and had some 200 rooms. Marbles and mosaics, glass windows, a heating system and running water were the luxuries of the period.

  • Graufesenque (Massif Central)

This site is near Millau, reveals the existence of the first factories in history. Here a series of wooden stoves mass produced earthenware and ceramic vases—several thousands at a time.

  • Autun (Morvan-Burgundy)

The city of Augustodunum was one of the most important cities in northern Gaul. As an example of the mixed cultures, the Janus temple was built from an important Gaulois fanum. Autun still has traces of a huge theatre, the base of its ramparts that was 6 km long, and some of its city gates and 53 tours from the surrounding wall.

  • Sanxay (Poitou-Charentes)

In Lusignan, this archeological site is a witness, for some forty others in France, of a sanctuary dedicated to water. Here the religious Romans worshiped in the style of the Celtics.

  • Paris

The amphitheatre of Lutèce is hidden behind a square and group of buildings in the charming St-Germain quarter (rue Monge, 5th arrondissement). Partly destroyed out of ignorance in the 19th century this theatre with it impressive size was save by Victor Hugo.