Vaison-La-Romaine Whispers History Around Every Ancient Corner
The historic French region of Provence is famed for its beauty, culture, and relaxed lifestyle. One of the most beautiful and ancient towns is Vaison-la-Romaine, with both Roman and Medieval heritage.
The Long History of Vaison-la-Romaine
Excavations have shown that there was a settlement at the site since at least the Bronze Age. In the 2 nd and 1 st century BC the town was a Celtic fortified settlement and was one of the capitals of the Vocontii tribe. Although they were eventually subjugated by the Romans, they retained a great deal of autonomy.
From the 1 st Century BC, Gaul enjoyed a long era of peace and prosperity. When Vaison became Romanized, the local elite adopted the cultural practice of their rulers with many members of the Vocontii elite building villas and Roman style houses. Two aqueducts provided water. The town was one of the most important in the province of Gallia Narbonese, the former Roman province, which is now Languedoc and Provence, in southern France.
Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine town, Provence, France (lic0001 / Adobe Stock)
During the Third Century Crisis, the period in which the Roman empire came close to collapse, the town which had grown to an area of 75 acres was sacked by Germanic invaders. It never fully recovered.
After the Fall of the Roman Empire, the town became an important ecclesiastical center. Vaison was controlled by the Burgundians, an early Germanic tribe, who later used many of the seats in the amphitheater as headstones.
The Ostrogoths under Theodoric the Great, took the town in 527 AD. Later it was added to the Frankish realm and eventually came under the control of the Counts of Provence. The medieval era was violent, as Catalans, Burgundians and others sought to control the rich land. Many of the inhabitants of Vaison moved to higher ground seeking a defensible position, which was the beginnings of the medieval town.
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The Roman bridge of Vaison la Romaine with the medieval town on the right (Laurent / Adobe Stock)
In the 13 th century, the town was divided between the Counts of Provence and the local bishop. The ensuing violence led to Vaison’s decline. Provence became part of the Kingdom of France 200 years later, and in the 18 th century the inhabitants moved down to the lowlands and built homes where the Roman town had once stood.
In 1992 parts of the modern town were devastated by a flash flood and sadly there was a great loss of life.
Roman-Era Ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine.
The Roman bridge that dates from the 1 st century AD stands proudly in the center of town.
The Roman ruins are located in two separate areas of Vaison-la-Romaine. La Villasse contains the forum which served as the main public space in the town. Several other Roman buildings such as the Office of Professional Guilds have been discovered as well as shops, baths and fountains. The most famous Roman ruins at Vaison-la-Romaine is the House of the Dolphin, which was once a lavish villa with ornate rooms and gardens.
The ancient theatre of Vaison La Romaine (Olivier-Tuffé / Adobe Stock)
The second Roman site, known as Puymin, is where the remains of large residences that once belonged to the local elite are found. A number of housing complexes have been identified, including the House of the Laurelled Apollo, the House of the Arbor, and the House of the Peacock. The Roman theater which could seat 7000 people was discovered in 1912.
Many of the marble sculptures that were unearthed at Vaison are now in Museums in North America and elsewhere in Europe.
Medieval Town’s Castle, Cathedrals and More
The majority of the medieval old town is situated on the heights that overlook the former Roman town and the views are inspiring.
Possibly the most impressive structure is the 11 th century castle that belonged to the Count of Toulouse, although the majority of was added in the 13 th century. In reality, it is a fortified building rather than a true castle and consists of a keep and a courtyard.
Narrow street in the old town of Vaison-la-Romaine in France (dudlajzov / Adobe Stock)
Another major medieval building at Vaison is the Church of St Quentin with an apse believed to date to the 700s AD. Most of the present church dates to the 15 th century and it contains many fine examples of religious art. The church is no longer used to celebrate religious services, but below it stands a Romanesque Church that also dates from the Middle Ages, and this is still a place of worship.
The village has many quaint and winding medieval streets, lined with distinctive buildings built of local stones. There are also some beautiful, vaulted passageways in the old town. The old market square dates from the 15 th century and contains a very impressive fountain.
Visiting Vaison-la-Romaine in France
The town is a popular tourist center with a famous open-air market, and of course the food is great. There is public transport to the town and plenty of accommodation. A fee is charged to visit the Roman ruins and there is plenty to see.
The natural scenery around Vaison is spectacular and the castle offers a great view of the Provencal landscape.
Top image: Vaison-La-Romaine medieval town Source: dpe123 / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
Anderson Jr, J. C. (2013). Vasio (Vaison‐la‐Romaine). The Encyclopedia of Ancient History
Bouet, A. (2010). Urban Diversity: Humans and Gods on the Slopes of the Hill of Puymin at Vasio Vocontiorum. Revue archéologique, (1), 3-46
Sobin, G. (2009). Ladder of shadows: reflecting on medieval vestige in Provence and Languedoc. Univ of California Press
Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=lang_en&id=CJla9fkRqKoC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=Vaison-la-Romaine,+France+medieval+&ots=4saktAgnjK&sig=3OCbKyFmxeI_x1U_M6XMb2ictss&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false