From Marie Antoinette to Napoleon Bonaparte, you may have brushed up on French history. Perhaps you’ve watched Les Misérables and even celebrated Bastille Day. But what happened in France long before Louis XIV ruled, before the Enlightenment took place or before the Eiffel Tower was built? The country we know as France today has been inhabited for thousands of years. And the country is still filled with relics from these ancient periods, particularly from the Roman era. In the region of Provence, many Roman ruins can still be explored. We’re uncovering Roman history in Provence and sharing the best sites you can still visit today.
Uncovering Roman History in Provence
The first farmers were believed to have arrived in present-day France around 5000 B.C., according to Archéologie Aérienne. It’s clear that the land, leaders and peoples have changed vastly over the past thousands of years. But one period that remains influential is the Roman era. The Roman Empire controlled the land where France stands today, but at that time, it was called Gaul. Under the reign of Julius Caesar, the Romans conquered Gaul during the years 58 and 51 B.C., per World History Encyclopedia.
“Never before had such a frenzy of construction taken place — cities were first, at the initiative of Augustus in 27 BCE, because for Rome, urbanization was the very symbol of civilization,” according to Archéologie Aérienne. And the fruit of the Roman Empire in Gaul can still be seen today in France.
Looking to uncover the best of Roman history in Provence? Here are some of our favorite experiences for history buffs:
Private Cultural Luxury Tour of Roman Provence
It’s one thing to read about Roman history in a textbook; it’s another thing to have a personal guide take you to the ruins. You’ll start in Nîmes. At first glance, this town may seem like any modernized French town. But upon closer look, you’ll discover the rich Roman history hidden here. Nîmes was founded by a Celtic tribe in the 6th century B.C., and Roman influence truly took root in the first century B.C., according to Nîmes Tourisme. Your guide will show you the Magne Tower with sweeping views of the town. As you climb up the 140 stairs, you can imagine what life was like thousands of years ago. Later you’ll wander the impressive Jardins de la Fontaine, which have been recognized as one of Europe’s first public gardens. Be sure to stop and poke around the Roman ruin, the Temple of Diane.
As you wander Nîmes, you might forget you’re even in France as its Roman characteristics still shine today. Your guide will lead you to the Maison Carrée, one of the best preserved temples from the former Roman Empire, according to UNESCO. Many have heard of the Colosseum in Italy, but Nîmes has a similar-looking amphitheater, which was built just 20 years after its Italian lookalike. Gladiators used to fight with an audience of 24,000 spectators in this very arena, per Arènes Nîmes.
After you’ve wandered Nîmes’ Roman ruins, your guide will drive you to the nearby Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct built during the reigns of Nero and Claudius. Built around 50 A.D., this aqueduct provided water for hundreds of years.
Private Visit and Wine Tasting at Mas des Tourelles
From smartphones to smart cars, the world is constantly innovating. But some things don’t change across the centuries, even millennia. One of those things is wine, which played an important role in Roman culture. Tucked in the Roman province of Beaucaire, this domain will transport you back to another era in its reconstruction of a Roman winery. Not only will you taste the domain’s wine crafted with ancient techniques, but you’ll also enjoy a workshop on how it’s made. As you sip on wine and nosh on tapenade, you’ll watch a film about the Roman grape harvest.
After Hours Palais des Papes Visit
When imagining the history of the Roman Catholic church, we often think of, well, Rome and the Vatican. But from 1309 to 1377, the popes left Rome for a southern French town, per Britannica. Avignon became the papal residence for this period, and you can still visit the Palais des Papes today. This impressive 14th century palace has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. French Side Travel will secure an exclusive, after-hours visit for your group to explore at your own pace.
Glanum Archeological Site
Long before the Romans arrived, the Celto-Ligurian Salyens people built this ancient city just a stone’s throw away from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence starting in 6th century B.C. During the Roman Empire’s reign of Gaul, Glanum was developed, but around 270 A.D., the settlement was destroyed and abandoned, according to the Centre des Monuments Nationaux. It wasn’t until 1921 that archeologists rediscovered this former oppidum. French Side Travel will organize a private after-hours visit for your group. You’ll get to explore the temples, buildings and its underground fountain.
From the French Revolutions and the French Resistance, there’s much to be explored in modern history in France. But these events only scratch the surface. Roman history plays a large part in France’s ancient history, and we’d be delighted to help you plan your trip to see these spots.
Where to Stay in Provence
Hotel La Mirande in Avignon
Step into another era at Hotel La Mirande, a 5-star hotel fit for a queen and king. Its 26 rooms are tastefully decorated with cotton prints and each has their own name. Explore the hotel’s intimate garden, which is home to a wide array of plants and herbs picked by its chefs. The hotel also has its own cooking school where guests can book sessions to learn alongside decorated chefs. Try your hand at the pavlova pastry or perhaps sauteed squid. We’d be happy to book you a table at La Mirande’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Nosh on Chef Florent Pietravalle’s latest creations from black pear to meat paired with a rye-bread crust. Not only is this hotel rich with its cuisine but also its history. In the 1300s, the popes came to dine in the oldest room of this hotel.
Hotel Imperator in Nîmes
This five-star boutique hotel in Nîmes is the perfect spot to rest your head after exploring Roman ruins in Provence. Delight yourself in one of its chic 54 rooms or 7 private houses. At the hotel’s restaurant l’Impé, you can savor dishes with local ingredients. Later, you can head to Bar Hemingway for some libations. Don’t just take our word for it; names such as Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso even stayed here.
Does this uncovering of Roman history in Provence make you want to delve even deeper into French culture? You might enjoy: Art, Culture and History trip to the French Riviera or Art, Culture and History trip to Provence. Need some help planning your trip?