Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

In the southeast of France, Provence, or Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, has 900 kilometres of Mediterranean coastline from the Rhône Valley to the border of Italy, that rise up to the southern Alps. A number of the region’s cities, including Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Nice, attest to the area’s rich Roman and Medieval histories. There are five departments in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, they are: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse.

Archaeology & History Sites in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Arles Amphitheatre

One of the major attractions in Rome, the Arènes d’Arles was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and is still used for entertainment today, as a venue for bullfighting during the Feria d’Arles in September and various musical events over summer. Although the structure is obviously Roman, it was modified during medieval times. The two towers are what remains of the amphitheatre as a fortress that up until the 18th century protected some 200 houses. These were removed in the 1820s.

Arles Obelisk

An uninscribed obelisk made of red granite and brought to France from Egypt by Constantine I. Arles was one of Constantine’s favourite cities, and here he built baths and an impressive amphitheatre – so well preserved it is still in use today. The obelisk was placed on the spina of the circus – the remains of which can still be seen near the archaeology museum. In late antiquity the obelisk fell and broke in two. Rediscovered in 1389, it was later re-erected in the centre of the Place de la République by Louis XIV.

Barbegal Aqueduct & Mills

Just north of present day Arles are the remains of what are thought to be the largest remains of a mill complex from antiquity. An aqueduct that supplied Roman Arles (Arelate) with water was also use to drive 16 water wheels to produce flour. Dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the substantial roadside remains include water channels, foundations of the individual mills, as well as the staircase rising up the hill on which the mills were built.

Glanum Archaeological Site

The ancient town of Glanum started out as an Iron Age oppidum at about 500 years BC. During the 2nd century BC the town became substantially Hellenised as a result of contact with the Greeks settled in Marseilles. After the defeat of the Gauls during the 1st century BC until the 3rd century AD Glanum was an important town with numerous religious and civic monuments being constructed.

Les Antiques

Over the departmental road (D5) from Glanum archaeological site are two large Roman monuments known as Les Antiques. One is a mausoleum the other a triumphal arch. The cenotaph, is not only a unique example of Roman funerary architecture it is also very well preserved. It was built sometime between 30 and 20 BC for a wealthy Gallo-Roman family. The nearby arch was erected in 20 AD to commemorate Caesar’s conquest of various tribes of Gauls. Two striking examples of monumental Roman architecture.

Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole

For about 1,000 years there has been a monastery near the archaeological site of Glanum. And for much of this time the community of monks has been known for taking in people with mental illness. The convent was nationalised after the French Revolution, and in 1807 it was sold to a doctor who then established a psychiatric asylum. On 8 May in 1889 Vincent Van Gogh was admitted, staying until 16 May 1890. Besides seeing his room, there is a walking tour of the gardens showing where he made some of his finest paintings. Also, a great place to see lavender.

Montmajour Abbey

A fortified but ruined Benedictine monastery on the outskirts of Arles. The complex of religious architecture has its origins in the 10th century with additions throughout the centuries until the 18th century. Visitors can see the 11th century hermitage Chapel of St Peter, the 14th century fortified monastery with Romanesque sculpture in the cloister, as well as the ruins of the 17th century Maurist monastery, amongst other features. Including rock-cut graves dating to the period between the 11th and 14th century.

Palais des Papes

For most of the 14th century Avignon was the seat of Western Christianity. The Palais des Papes is in fact two conjoining Papal palaces: the Palais Vieux and Palais Neuf. Together they make up the largest Gothic building in Europe, and one of the most important. The Episcopal complex, the 12th century bridge and the historic centre of Avignon were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1995.

Roman Theatre of Orange

The Roman theatre in the town of Orange is the best preserved such ancient theatre in Europe, and because of this it has been placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Standing at the top of the cavea, looking down onto the stage and the stage building, is a wonderful experience for all those who enjoy Roman archaeology. Built in the reign of Emperor Augustus during the first century A.D, and with a seating capacity of up to 10,000, the theatre was the scene of great shows in Roman times and it still attracts visitors to musical events today.

Triumphal Arch of Orange

This exceptionally well preserved Triumphal Arch was built on the Via Agrippa during Augustus’ reign (27 BC to 14 AD). Initially to honor the veterans of the Gallic Wars, Tiberius had it modified to honour Germanicus and his victories over Germanic tribes in the Rhineland. During the medieval period it was part of the town’s wall for defensive purposes. Recently it was restored and is now the centre piece of a landscaped traffic circle.

Museums & Art Galleries in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Cosquer Méditerranée

Opened in June 2022, Cosquer Méditerranée is home to the recently created replica of Grotte Cosquer. The submerged entrance to the cave of Cosquer was discovered in 1985 but the Ice Age art, both paintings and engravings, were only found by divers in 1991. The first human occupation of the cave was about 30,000 years ago, and the last around 19,000 years before the present. This new facility tells the story, history and archaeology of Cosquer Cave. After taking a lift to the replicated submerged entrance 37 below sea level, visitors board exploratory vehicles and take a guided tour, available in 6 different languages, to explore the replica of the ‘underwater cave’ on a journey that takes 35 minutes.