Must See: 6 Ancient Ruins of Aqueducts, Temples and Coliseums in Provence, France
Updated: Nov 10, 2019
The Provence region of Southern France is steeped in rich culture and history that is apparent the moment you see it for yourself. Even the 17th century townhouses are built from pieces of Ancient Roman ruins!
Provence undoubtedly boasts some of the best preserved ruins in all of Europe. From temples, to theaters and coliseums, even palaces and castles, visitors from all over the world can experience the wonders of the Ancient Roman Empire, medieval France, and 17th century structures that are still standing today.
Here are just some of the ancient sites that are a must see when taking a vacation in Provence:
#1 Pont du Gard
Easily considered one of Europe’s most beautiful Ancient Roman sites, Pont du Gard aqueduct has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the last 20 years!
Between May through August you can see the astounding structure lit up under magnificent starry Mediterranean skies reminiscent of the famous Vincent Van Gogh painting. If you’re planning a day trip to the ruin, be sure to kayak or canoe down the Gardon River where the aqueduct is located to get the most breath-taking photos!
When you’re done, be sure to visit the nearby museum for amazing insights into the Ancient Roman world. After your excursion, a picnic with the kids, or an intimate lunch for two may be in order.
For ideas on Provencal cuisines and recipes, view our full article on the staple foods of Southern France HERE.
For those who truly want to be transported to another time, this is the place to go. In fact, Pont du Gard was the aqueduct that transported water to this ancient city, which is named after the Celtic god of the spring.
The site was founded by the intended successor to Julius Caeser, Marcus Agrippa, who commissioned a well preserved first century BCE Corinthian temple, which you can, and most definitely should visit. The town also features the amphitheatre “Les Arenas”, an ancient coliseum where you can watch astounding bull fights, and participate in local events. Also be sure to visit the “so called Temple of Diana”.
Nîmes is associated with much historical family drama, about which an entire film has been dedicated: Nemausus: the Birth of Nîmes. Of course you can catch a showing of the film in Maison Carrée in the area.
For the most stunning views in all of Provence, and maybe even in all of France, you’ll want to visit Glanum, located in the heart of the gorgeous Alpilles mountains in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
The city of St Rémy was expanded due in large part to contact with the Ancient Greeks, and is a shining example of Roman urban development and architecture. In fact, services such as Provence Paradise offer tourists and vacationers a chance to rent out town houses in the area that are built from the recycled materials of these ancient Roman homes.
"Within easy day trips are a full range of beautiful perched villages and hill towns to satisfy every age and desire for history, incredible restaurants, a full array of market days across the assortment of villages and the variety of experiences which make every day a new and satisfying event."
- Savvan Family
A curious sun-dial installed upside-down in one of their walls and the underground, double channeled aqueduct, built with small red bricks and which runs across the entire length of the property at a depth of about 5 meters provide for amazing photo ops in these authentic vacation rentals (which come with all modern amenities).
From Provence Paradise it’s just a quick stroll, or even horseback ride, to the world’s most well preserved ancient Mausoleum of Julii, and one of the first Triumphal Arcs ever built by the Romans.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arles was once a strategic position between Italy and Spain.
Julius Caeser himself founded the Roman colony that made this city what it is today, and famously, back in 2008, a bust of him was found at the bottom of the Rhône River and believed to be the only portrait bust of him made during his lifetime.
Arles is also known for its amphitheater (Arènes d’Arles) and the theater (Théâtre Antique), remains of a circus, baths (Thermae of Constantine), and necropolis (the Alyscamps).
#5 Vaison la Romain
This city once became the wealthiest city in Roman Provence, and certainly has some of the most "Roman" feels to it. There are two main sites to see here: La Villase and Puymin.
La Villase is an ancient, paved street which is raised and colonnaded, and flanked by luxurious houses, baths, gardens, and shops.
At Puymin you can see the heavily restored remains of the ancient Roman theater. Be sure to visit the Museum of Vaison-la-Romain while there for a glimpse at the splendid "Peacock Mosaic".
Not the fruit, and not the tv show. In the center of the Rhône Valley, the Théâtre antique d’Orange is certainly an interesting, and most see ancient site of France, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Roman Theater of Orange was a great center for entertainment in Roman times and still draws large audiences to musical events even today.
In the Art and History Museum of Orange, just opposite the ancient theater, exhibits a delightful and impressive work of Roman art: a recently restored centaur mosaic. Reliefs that decorated the stage wall of the theater are also on display in the rooms of the ground floor.
The best of Provence, France:
What fascinates many of us is the clever building skills of the Romans. Much evidence of their work is visible and "visitable." Travelers to Provence find roman monuments, statuary, ramparts, aqueducts, ships, theatres, underground passages, ... in city centres, in museums, on street corners, at the bottom of the mighty Rhone river, in deep forests and in farmers' fields, and even in the gardens and old walls of local villas.
Carved stone from Roman times was often "recycled" to build medieval structures, which were in turn "re-re-cycled" to be used in 17th century buildings, many of which are still standing today, especially in towns like Saint Rémy de Provence.
So, we are lucky in Provence. The first construction dates from an earlier Greek settlement (circa 800 B.C.) and the Roman construction was literally done on top of the Greek settlements, taking advantage of the "infrastructure" originally built by the Hellenic peoples. At one position of excavation of the Roman Forum, you can look down through the layers of a well shaft and see through 3,000 years of history.
Arles, Nîmes and Vaison-la-Romaine are fascinating places of constant discovery: Antique theatres which are still in open-air use; coliseums almost as large as that of Rome and built about the same time; thermal baths with underground passages; cloisters built by the first Christian missionaries in the region, ramparts and towers in ruins, Roman burial sites from pagan and Christian times…
But travelers the world over are agreed. Better than visiting any museum and taking the usual tourist trips, the best way to experience ancient history in Provence is to immerse yourself into that world.
Next time you visit Provence in Southern France, consider staying in an authentic townhouse rather than a hotel. For more ideas or for booking your own vacation rental, Click Here to find out more.