Roman Ruins in France - Al Fresco Holidays
Roman Revolution: The Most Remarkable Roman Ruins in France
These days France is a cosmopolitan, forward-thinking country, with sleek, sophisticated cities such as Paris, Nice and Biarritz, spectacular natural scenery and some of the most family-friendly beach resorts in Europe.
However, rewind the clock two thousand years and the country had a rather different story to tell. From 58 BC to the late 5th century, France, like much of the rest of Europe, was under the power of the mighty Roman Empire. It is in France, perhaps more than other European countries, that you can get a real flavour of this ancient past thanks to the number of Roman ruins that still remain to this day, some of them remarkably intact.
Whether you’re a keen history fanatic or simply dipping your toe tentatively in the ancient past, exploring some of France’s Roman ruins can provide excellent entertainment on your holiday and can really ignite the imagination of children and adults alike.
Here are just a few of our favourite Roman ruins, nestled in various locations across the country.
Saintes, in Poitou-Charentes
The site of Saintes, in Poitou-Charentes in Aquitaine, was once a bustling Roman city, and the capital of the region. It is also home to France’s oldest Roman ruin, the remarkably well preserved Les Arènas (an ancient amphitheatre). Aim to turn up in the summer months, and you’ll be richly rewarded, as the amphitheatre is often used as the venue for open air performances. In addition to the amphitheatre, there are also the remains of a triumphal arch, located near the river bank.
Wondering where to stay? La Rive holiday park in Bicarosse is in a great location to explore the region.
Vienne, Rhone Valley
The area around Vienne (or Vienna, as the Romans would have called it) boasts a number of fine Roman ruins. The Temple d’Auguste, dedicated to the Emperor Augustus, is incredibly intact, and is an imposing monument of Corinthian pillars and weighty stone roof; testament to the enduring prowess of Roman construction. Visitors can also explore the Théâtre Antique whilst in the area, which is able to seat 13,000 people and still holds performances to this day. It was, at the time, one of the largest buildings in the entire Roman Empire.
Orange, though only a small town, is relatively easy to get to thanks to its proximity to Avignon. Despite its diminutive size, it is home to one of the most remarkable Roman ruins in the country, the spectacular Roman Theatre. The enormous open air theatre is a UNESCO world heritage site, and its unique appeal lies in the fact that it is one of the few theatres to have an intact walled stage area, in addition to seating. To explore the region of Provence, Les Lacs du Verdon provides an idyllic rural retreat, and the perfect place from which to explore.
The historic town of Nimes is one of the more famous ancient Roman sites. Located on the Languedoc / Provence border, it is a fascinating location, boasting both aged Roman sites and modern architecture. The Roman jewel in its crown is undoubtedly the stunningly preserved amphitheatre, whose arches are still largely complete today despite being nearly 2,000 years old. In spite of its age, the amphitheatre is still used today, though these days the screams of the gladiators have been swapped for the stamping feet of the bulls as Nimes is the largest bull-fighting venue outside of Spain. There are also a few other notable Roman ruins, including the Temple of Diana in the Jardin de la Fontain.
Lyon, Rhone Valley
In France, big cities are not often synonymous with ancient ruins. However, Lyon, despite being one of the country’s largest cities, remains the exception to the rule. Indeed, the city was once a major centre for the Roman Empire and the main reminder of this is the Grand Roman Theatre. Situated on a hill, it offers great views of the area, and a fascinating insight into the lives of the ancient Romans.
The ancient Roman city of Arles remains a firm favourite with visitors thanks to its historic buildings and delightful ambiance. The amphitheatre is by far and away the most impressive structure in the city, and with a seating capacity of 20,000, it is incredibly large and imposing. In recent times it has served as a bull-fighting ring and hosts cultural events throughout the year. The city also has an excellent museum, which features models of what the ancient city might have looked like in the time of the Roman Empire.
Gallo-Roman Pont, Gard, Languedoc
The Gallo-Roman Bridge at Gard is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the Roman Empire. The three-tiered aqueduct stretches for 900 feet, with the top tier still carrying water to this day. The area is a particularly good one to visit with families, as there are pleasant places by the riverbank where kids can take a dip in the waters and enjoy a picnic. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay whilst in the tranquil Languedoc region, then La Chapelle campsite is an excellent option, with swimming pool, water slides and numerous facilities for the entire family.
France is an inspirational country to explore for those who love to immerse themselves in history and culture. Ancient Roman ruins can be found in the most unlikely of places, from isolated fields to bustling cosmopolitan cities, and nothing is more exciting than coming face to face with a piece of ancient history, especially when it is unexpected! Children are also often surprisingly engaged with Roman ruins, and it’s a good idea to invest in a child-friendly guide book that tells the story of the Roman invasion in a colourful, exciting way.
To enjoy a great family break that combines exploration, adventure and family fun, check out these great resorts at Al Fresco Holidays. Several of them are excellently located to access Roman ruins, whilst also offering great locations near the beach.