May 18 – Orange and Avignon

Orange

Luck was with us as we arrived at Orange and the sun shone.  We decided to stay on a small campsite that was within walking distance of the town.  The owners were very welcoming to this very French campsite with unisex facilities, no loo paper and overgrown pitches.  I am not criticising as it adds to the feeling that you are in a different country.  We were able to order bread and croissants for the morning which is always a nice option.

The campsite owner provided us with a town map and directed us towards the Arc de Triomphe, which is the nicest entry to the town.

Arc de Triomphe

Our main aim was to visit the Roman Theatre and we were not disappointed.  It was €32 for the two of us which included a guided tour and a virtual tour.  We were able to wander at will with an audio guide and really soak up the atmosphere.  We ate our sandwiches sitting near the top of the seating and enjoyed listening to a teacher demonstrating the acoustics to her class.

Looking down across the seating
Wall at back of the stage

The Romans really knew how to do things properly.  They kept the different classes suitably separated, provided changing facilities for the actors, water in a pond before the stage to float actors and props, and more water in funnels to improve the acoustics.  This theatre could seat 9000 citizens which is rather awesome.  The virtual tour involved sitting in a room with 3D goggles on and being transported back to the time when the theatre was built and used.  It showed how the roof over the stage would have looked and how the tented roof over the auditorium would have been operated.  An interesting fact is that the 9 metre statue of the Emperor behind the stage would have had a removeable head.  When a new Emperor took over, they simply carved a new head rather than having to produce a whole new statue!

Beside the theatre is the remains of a temple and hemicycle where Romans worshipped their Emperor.  This formed an Augusteum, an architectural form dedicated to the Imperial Cult.

Temple remains

After our day at the Roman Theatre we enjoyed a beer in the theatre square and feasted our eyes on the imposing façade.  The wall was 103 metres long and 37 metres high.  A quick visit to the museum completed our day.  It was a bit disappointing after the glorious theatre but came in the price of the ticket, so we persevered.

The town itself is very pleasant to amble around.  There are the usual narrow streets with squares and shops and eateries.  There were also other attractions which we decided not to visit on this occasion.

One of many lovely squares

The Arc de Triomphe is a 1st Century Triumphal Arch.  It is situated on the route of Agrippa and dedicated to the glory of the veterans who founded the Roman Colony of Orange.  The depiction of captive Gauls symbolises Roman domination.  Work has clearly been carried out to ensure that the arch remains as impressive as it would have been when built.

 

Detail on the Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe in all its glory

Avignon

Our next stop was Avignon where we were looking forward to seeing the famous bridge, and the Palais des Papes.  We spent 4 nights on a campsite right by the river which enabled us to wander out and take pictures of the changing scene during the daytime and the evening.

Early evening  view across the Rhone to the Palais des Papes
Lit up at night
The famous bridge

Again, it was an easy stroll into the town.  We started our exploration with a visit to the Palais des Papes. 

Approaching the Palais
Imposing front view

A combined ticket gave us entry to the palace and the bridge.  The clever use of technology here added enormously to the interest, as there is very little left in the palace to give an idea of the grandeur.  Each visitor is provided with an IPad which is activated by entry into the rooms on the tour.  For extra information there are points with circular pads that you hover the IPad over.  This activates a visual image of how the room would have looked and you can turn around to get a panoramic view.  Very impressive!  The palace is huge and you only get to see a relatively small part. 

Courtyard

Photos of anything decorative, such as the colourful frescoes, are not allowed so it was only possible to take a limited selection. 

Entrance doorway

9 Popes succeeded one another here before the Roman centre became exclusive.  The Papal Palace was both a powerful fortress and a magnificent palace and was the seat of the Christian world in the 14th century.  Today it is recognized as a UNECSO World Heritage monument. It was a seriously hot day so we did not visit the bridge but went home to the van.  The evening sun shining on the Palais was probably our favourite part!

Next day, not quite so hot, we went to the town to enjoy the covered market and the Saturday atmosphere.  Again, there are lovely narrow streets of shops and pretty squares where you can sit and watch the world go by, or enjoy a meal.  We saw a dear old gentleman playing the hurdy gurdy with his cat contentedly laying by his side.

Man and cat entertaining

We wandered around the market where we bought a delicious cake for our lunch.

Covered market

We then sat under a tree in a square where a jazz trio were playing to the numerous diners.

Jazz at lunchtime

On the way “home” we went to the legendary bridge.  The history of the bridge starts with the legend of Saint Benezet, who was canonised for the miracle he performed in laying the first stone of the bridge.  Construction of the bridge got properly underway in the mid 13th century and it was only wide enough for single lane traffic.  It is therefore, unlikely that there was any dancing!!  The bridge was damaged by the impact of climate change at the end of the Middle Ages which affected the hydrological characteristics of the river Rhone.  As of the 17th century, the bridge was no longer repaired and so, there is only part of it still standing today.  It was still worth a visit as you can walk out into the middle of the Rhone without getting your feet wet.

Looking back along the bridge towards the Palais

We took the free ferry back across the Rhone and enjoyed the stroll back “home” along the busy promenade in the sunshine.

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