Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Romans of Southern France

There are impressive examples of Roman architecture in Italy, of course, and Greece, of course, and if you know England very well, you know there is a city called Bath which is named for it’s famous Roman Bath that you can still see filled with hot water today.  But did you know that southern France has some pretty impressive displays of Roman architecture too? 

If you travel to the city of Orange (sounds much fancier if you try to say it the way you think a French person would say it), you will no doubt make your way to the Theatre antique d’Orange, an amazingly huge and well-preserved example of a great Roman theater that dates back some 2000 years.   

Just walking along the outside of this towering theater is enough to impress with its 121-foot tall façade that is longer than a US football field.  But then you go inside, walk through a dark tunnel and emerge through an archway and into this…

Impressive, isn’t it!  The stage is enormous, and the wall behind it rising 121 feet to match the façade outside is littered with signs of what once decorated this great wall; colorful marble mosaics, marble pillars, and niches that once held great statutes.  

The citizens of Orange and the surrounding area loved the theater, spending much of their free time here, and you can’t blame them.  It was free and open to all, and can you imagine the great spectacles of theater that took place here – plays that lasted all day with elaborate sets and special effects that would be sensational even by today's standards.  And there were mimes, pantomimes, and sometimes just the simple reading of poetry that would need no more than it's words spoken in this dramatic setting to render the experience extraordinary. 

It's easy to imagine people hurrying through the cold stone corridors, eager to get to their seats so as not to miss one moment of the action on stage. 

Believe it or not, but this theater is still in use today.  What I wouldn't give to visit Orange in August when this incredible theater plays host to the Choregie d'Orange, a summer opera festival.  Oh, to experience Puccini's Madame Butterfly performed on this great stage.  Could it possibly be any more dramatic than this?   

If you head north from the Theater, after a bit of a walk you will find yourself approaching another great Roman structure - the Triumphal Arch of Orange.  Believed to date back some 2000 years as well, it was once part of the town's wall, guarding the entry into the city during the middle ages.  It was built to honor veterans of the Gallic Wars (which took place from 58 to 50 BC) and the Legio II Augusta, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army.  I'm sure it made an impressive entry into the city of Orange back then because it certainly does now.

That is about all we saw of Orange, except for the whimsical fountain above.  We weren't there for long because the sun was shining and Eric was hoping to catch a glimpse and maybe take some photos of one of the enchanting hill towns that southern France is known for.  The small town of Gordes sitting high on top of it's hill with it's terracotta houses glowing in the light of the later afternoon sun...

Could it be any more charming!  We actually had to make our way back to this little hill town a couple of times as on our first visit, the photographer didn't think the lighting was right.  

Geez - the places I am forced to sit and wait for my husband to take all his darn photos!  The view was spectacular, even on a cloudy day.  

On our first trip to Gordes, we actually missed the road leading into the village and ended up down in the valley on the other side.  Looking for a place to turn around, we pulled into a driveway and soon found ourselves surrounded by these well manicured but interest shaped trees.  

It kind of felt like we were in the pages of a Dr. Seuss book.

We got ourselves turned around and this time we found the road leading into the town.  

Funny, but we had read in a travel book that shall remain nameless that driving by this village in Provence as the sun was setting is a must, that the glow of the late day sun across the terracotta buildings of this hilltop village is mesmerising, and they were right, but this particular author also said not to bother stopping in as there are more charming villages in France to be seen.   

Well, kind travel “expert”, I respectfully disagree.  While we did see some other incredibly entrancing hilltop villages which I will be sharing with you over the next week or two, this little village of Gordes with it's steep, cobblestone streets is full of charm too and worth the stop!   

And the views from inside the village – wow!  Definitely worth the stop.  

These are lucky, lucky people that get to call these streets their home. 

If only I was one of them. 



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