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Orange, Provence, Southern France

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Orange, Provence

The drive into Orange, a small town in Provence, on a rather drizzly overcast Sunday in March did not augur well but to say expectations were surpassed would be an understatement.  It includes perhaps the most fascinating monument I have been to.


Orange is wonderful if you are into Roman ruins and Roman cultural history.  The ones in Orange and absolutely wonderful. And the jewel in the crown is without doubt the Roman amphitheatre.

The guide said it was the best preserved example of an amphitheatre in Europe, its only equal is in Syria it seems.  It is a Unesco World Heritage site – and rightly so!

The amphitheatre is built into the side of the hill of Saint Eutrope.  It is difficult to see how without this natural start it would have been possible to build such a gigantic structure – it would seat 9000 spectators – but the Romans were never afraid to take on big projects.

The sheer size of it was awe inspiring.  The curtain wall dominates. And it is huge.  On a pedestal well up towards the top of the wall stands the emperor, in majestic pose overseeing the proceedings.  The sculpture is something like thirty feet tall which gives an impression of the scale of the building.  What fascinated me was that every time the emperor changed, which at some points in Roman history, they simply sculpted a new head and swapped it over.  A nice touch of practicality I thought.

Sitting in the terraces you get a feel for what it must have been like to watch a play, the marble columns at the side of the set are still there, one is well preserved the other less so.  
For all its size the whole edifice makes you feel part of what is going on, and it has such a modern feel.  In many ways you get the feeling it could have been built quite recently, it is only the emperor overseeing everything that it away as being from a different civilisation and culture.

During a Roman spectacle, the audience would take their seats according to a very strict code dictated by status.  Depending upon your trade etc determined how far up the tiers of seats you sat.

And the acoustics are wonderful.

Orange's Roman Arch

Orange also boasts a superb Roman Triumphal Arch.  It stands on the middle of a roundabout somewhat lost in the modern road network, but still it retains its splendour.  It stands on the Roman Road, the Via Agrippa which after the Arch turned to head towards the city gates

It is pock marked with bullet holes from when it was used as target practice

Opposite the amphitheatre is an attractive museum but I had spent all my time entranced by the amphitheatre so it when I next back to Orange, it will be on my list.


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