‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’
So went the classic and much quoted line from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The characters went on to name any number of things the Romans had done.
But I feel like they missed one of the more important things the ancient Romans delivered. And that’s the number of awesome Roman sites in France.
Modern day travellers are able to visit Roman sites all over the French landscape. Most of them are in the south. But surprisingly, there are some excellent examples much further north.
And, just as you can let other hobbies guide your trip to France, if you’re into Roman history, you can easily build a French itinerary around visiting these sites. While, I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re Roman history enthusiasts, we have spent some brilliant days exploring some of the enduring engineering feats of the Romans. So today I thought I’d share a few of our favourite Roman sites in France.
Travel Planning – Roman Sites In France
I’ll start with the first Roman site we were introduced to in France. On our very first full day in the city, we chose to take a bicycle tour around Paris. (Goodness knows why, between the jet-lag and the traffic, we were lucky to survive.)
Anyhow, one of the stops on the tour was Arènes de Lutèce. It’s safe to say that we weren’t expecting to see teenagers playing football in an ancient Gallo-Roman amphitheatre (apparently it’s the 3rd largest in France) just a stones throw from the Sorbonne. And yet, there we were.
Arènes de Lutèce is definitely one of Paris’ best kept secrets. It rarely bobs up on the ‘must-see’ lists despite how unique it is. But if you’re wanting a Parisian taste of Roman history at no cost except your time, it’s definitely worth a look.
Given Lyon’s location in the centre of France, it’s not surprising that the area contains a rich Roman history. The remains of Lugdunum, the Gaulish capital during the Roman Empire can be found on Lyon’s Fourvière Hill. Again, arenas are on show with a Grand theatre and smaller Odéon theatre waiting to be explored.
When we visited the larger theatre was being prepped for a rock concert. It was fascinating – and refreshing – to see one of the age-old Roman sites in France still being used, and in such a modern way. And it definitely says something for the Roman’s understanding of acoustics.
On the outskirts of the beautiful Saint-Rémy-de-Provence you will find the archeological site of Glanum. Given Glanum was established in the 6th century BC and abandoned around 250 AD, the site is amazing well preserved and definitely worth a visit. If you are short on time, the ‘Antiques’ which sit outside the main reserve will give you a glimpse into Glanum, but I highly recommend you pay the small admission fee and visit the whole site. After all, it’s not everyday that most of us get to explore an archeological site that features both Roman and pre Roman relics.
Arles is also famous for a Roman amphitheatre but we were keen to explore the city’s cryptoporticus – which is a rather dramatic name for a covered passageway. In Arles’ case, these passages were part of the foundations for the city’s original Forum. Although, we haven’t visited it, it is said that the Champagne town of Reims also has an impressive cryptoporticus.
We loved Nîmes – but I’ve got to tell you that we weren’t actually supposed to go there. The fact is, our train ticket that day told us we were supposed to be headed to Montpellier. But we never actually made it. You see, we were on the train from Lyon to Montpellier, and it was a truly spectacular, sun-shining day. We pulled into Nîmes station and looked out through the typically dirty train window to a view of the Nîmes market. And it looked amazing. So we jumped of the train, ready to explore.
We had no idea that we’d just arrived in the home of some of the most impressive Roman sites in France. It didn’t take us long to work it out though, given the exceptionally well preserved Nîmes amphitheatre is situated just steps from the railway station. It is surprising how much access visitors have to the ancient arena – you can climb right to the top of it if you want to, as well as being able to explore the ancient passages inside the walls.
The recently refreshed Maison Carrée is another must-see Roman site in France. This square temple is believed to have built to honour the grandsons of the first Roman Emperor Augustus. Today you can enter the temple to watch a film documenting the birth of Nîmes.
Pont du Gard
The city of Nîmes is situated just 22kms from the formidable Pont du Gard. We first this explored engineering marvel back in 2008 on our first visit to France. Even after all this time, it still amazes that were able to wander across the centuries old three layered aqueduct, which was originally built to supply water to Nîmes. The views of this bridge are spectacular from every angle. Definitely one you want to take a camera to.
You can learn more about Nîmes and the Pont du Gard in this piece that I wrote for My French Life™.
I’d love to know – have you visited any of these Roman sites in France? Or perhaps you have others to add to the list? Either way, I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.