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Roman Sites & Museums in Provence

Provence gets its name from the Romans. From Julius Caesar to be more specific. For Caesar and the Romans the territory beyond the Alps, and then stretching to the Pyrénées and north up to Lyon, was the Provincia Romana, the Province of Rome. And this evolved into its present name, which has been used politically and administratively ever since. Following the establishment of the Empire, and Augustus’s monument at La Turbie, the Romans founded many towns in the province, known as Gallia Narbonensis. They had an extensive, monumental building programme of public and domestic architectures: amphitheatres and theatres, fora and villas, baths and aqueducts. Many of which have survived very well to this day. Leading some to suggest it’s as if the Romans never left.

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Roman 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.

Flavien Roman Bridge

Despite the rather unassuming setting, le Pont Flavien is said to be one of the most beautiful Roman bridges outside of Italy. Certainly it is unique in France in that it has a pair of ceremonial arches at either end, each with a pair of crouching lions on top. The bridge has suffered much since it was built, but each time it has been painstakingly reconstructed. The parapets are modern, and only one of the lions is original. But still, anyone who is fascinated by Roman engineering should not miss it. It is thought that the bridge was as much a funerary monument as it was functional.

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.

Pont Julien

Until 2005, nearly two thousand years after its construction, Pont Julien was still used for cars and other light vehicles to cross the River Calavon. Now, it is restricted to motorbikes and pedestrians. The Roman stone arch bridge was built in 3 BC, without the use of any cement. An interesting feature is the use of openings on the supporting columns to allow floodwater to pass through reducing the potential of destruction. It was situated on the Via Domitia, and is now the only Roman bridge that is both in tact and still in use along that ancient Road.

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.

Roman Vaison-la-Romaine - Vasio Julia Vocontiorum

There are more Roman remains exposed in Vaison-la-Romaine than anywhere else in France.  Not unproblematically, much of the town was excavated in the first half of the 1900s. For the visitor today there are two areas to explore: one is free, the other, including a museum, not. The earliest Roman buildings date to 50-30 BC, and by the 2nd century AD it was one of the richest cities in the province. The town recovered from Barbarian attacks of 280 AD, and became an important religious centre. A day will allow you to cover most if not all of Vaison comfortably.

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 With Roman Collections in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

Fréjus Archaeological Museum

With Fréjus’s rich archaeological heritage, particularly from the Roman period, there are a number of ongoing excavations in the city. Many of the finds recovered from these excavations are displayed in the municipal archaeology museum, and are arranged thematically to give an idea of what life was like during the Roman period of the city. In the sculpture gallery there are a number of striking pieces, including a large, very well preserved floor mosaic. Pride of place, however, is given to the double headed bust of Hermès, now the symbol of Fréjus.

Musée Départemental Arles Antique

Also known as the Musée de l’Arles Antique, it is situated at the end of what was the Roman circus – parts of which can still be viewed. Although the focus of the museum’s exhibitions date to the Roman period in Arles, there are collections on display from the Neolithic to Late Antiquity (from the 4th to 6th centuries AD). There are some extraordinary artefacts on display, including many exquisite mosaic floors, a bust of Caesar and the recently excavated boat. A must visit before exploring Roman Arles.

Interactive Map of Roman Sites & Museums in Provence

You can do at least two things with the following interactive map. First, by switching the display of the map to satellite mode (you can uncheck ‘labels’ to get a clutter free map), you can get a street view of most of the sites. Simply click and drag the yellow pegman (lower right) onto the map and drop it on a blue line or dot to get street-view at that point.

Second, you can also use the markers on the map to save that site or museum to your itinerary. Click on a marker to see the site’s information box. If you are logged in you will see the option to add that place to your itineraries and travel lists. Login or register to use these features.

Roman Sites & Museums in Provence

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