Highlights of a trip to Provence will usually include visits to wineries and ancient hilltop villages, as well as leisurely lunches – but there is another interesting side to this region of France. During a road trip through beautiful Provence, I learned that you don’t have to go to Rome to see some of the best-preserved Roman ruins. In fact, many of the most intact, ancient Roman ruins are spread throughout the former empire, from France to Sicily and beyond.
Travelers with an interest in history can plan their itinerary through Provence and its neighboring district, the Gard, to include ancient Roman sites. With these attractions leading the way, you never know what else you will encounter along your drive.
Pont du Gard
One of the best known Roman attractions in the Gard is the ancient bridge, Pont du Gard. For this reason, Pont du Gard should be first on a day’s itinerary, as it is best appreciated in the morning before the crowds arrive. Unlike other ancient attractions that put a barrier between you and the structure, at the Pont du Gard you are permitted to stroll right over the bridge.
This bridge and aqueduct was built in the 1st century AD and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At over 160 feet in height, this impressive stone structure is noted for its signature arches. Not only is it an architectual work of art, but Pont du Gard was incredibly functional, carrying an estimated 44 million gallons of water to the people of Nimes everyday. The bridge and aqueduct are so well built, they were used well after the fall of Rome.
While walking across the bridge, keep in mind that not only is this structure many, many centuries old, but it was also built without the help of any modern technology.
Roman Theater – Orange
Once you’re back in the car, head for the city of Orange. This city is home to what many historians call the best-preserved Roman theater on the planet. Right smack in the center of town is the Theatre Antique d’Orange. Built in the 1st century AD, this UNESCO World Heritage Site almost seems too good to be true.
Any traveler that has encountered other Roman theaters has been forced to use their imagination to complete the structure. Often parts of an ancient ampitheater are missing or destroyed. This isn’t the case, however, at the Roman Theater in Orange. Here the ampitheater is perfectly intact, the backdrop of the stage intricately carved and whole.
When entering the theater, pick up an audio guide (available in a number of languages) to learn even more about the historical significance of the theater. There’s also a small museum and bookshop for travelers who want to learn more about this theater built by Emperor Augustus.
Saint Remy de Provence
Another charming town that is home to ancient Roman ruins is Saint Remy de Provence. It is possible to spend an entire day or more soaking up the atmosphere of this traditional Provencal town. If you visit on a Wednesday, in addition to the Roman ruins you can also check out a bustling town market stuffed with local produce.
The best known local attraction is the Triumphal Arch of Glanum, a Roman monument built in the 1st century AD. While the upper portion of the arch is missing, it is easy to envision how this structure was a symbol of Roman strength and power.
After visiting the arch, be sure to take in the café culture in Saint Remy de Provence.
A Driving Tour of Provence
With today’s GPS systems, a driving tour of Provence is now easier than ever. For those travelers interested in including a little exercise in their trip, there are many sets of Roman ruins in Provence that are only a short cycle ride apart. Bicycles are available for rent throughout the region.
Once you start exploring the Roman history of this region of France, you are sure to discover there is much more to see. This is all the more reason to return in the future for more wine, bike rides, and ancient attractions.
Written by Jessica Colley for EuropeUpClose.com