Heritage of Orange

Hehe…the title of this essay suggests that we may be delving into the world of fruits. And sure it would be if the word Orange actually means what you and I both know about fruit!

What we are referring to is a place in France, Provence specifically.

It originally started as a colony established by veterans of the Roman army around 40 BC, “retirees” from active service being granted lands to farm for a living after a career in military service. Some literature suggests that the area that Orange stands was like a miniature Rome, with many public buildings that might had been constructed in the likeness of ones in the capital.

So what’s here that is worth visiting?

One of best preserved!

Why Roman relics of course! We were here to enjoy the views of the theatre, one of the best preserved and compact ones ever built. The other two being in Syria (now ruins) and Turkey (Aspendos, see separate page here). Actually the one here in Orange is still used for performances! We saw some audio equipment being moved to the back part of the theater while we were here.

All hail Caesar!

It was built around AD 120, and while it was only a provincial theater it has superb acoustics. Evidently we tried it and it’s true. Did you know why theatres were built all over the Roman Empire? Hazard a guess? Political distraction it was! People with idle time on their hands were considered fodder for political machinations. Much like today…

Facts about the theater:

  • 7,000-seating capacity
  • Stage varies in depth from 40 to 50 feet
  • Runs 210 feet along the base of the theater’s great 120-foot-high, 340-foot-wide stage wall

Closed in AD 391 by imperial edict by the then crumbling Roman empire, it was largely abandoned. Over the course of the next 1500 years the theatre would fall into disrepair and neglect. Some of its stones were even pillaged for reuse!

Fortunately in 1825, restorations began with the hope of turning this beautiful theatre into what it was original intended. Today an annual opera festival – Chorégies d’Orange – is held here!

It’s a roundabout!

The triumphal arch on the other hand was built in the 1st century AD. We parked nearby and walked there for a photo. The arch is now part of a roundabout. In the middle ages, they actually made it part of the city walls! LOL. And very surprisingly it is asserted that the arch was constructed in a design that was only later used in Rome!

Intricate reliefs

When exactly the arch was constructed is debated even till this day.

As you know, the Romans built arches and steles to commemorate very significant events. What would they have built all the way out here, so far from Rome? Some say it was to celebrate victory over the Gauls for which France they dominated. And it was said to have been reconstructed later to celebrate victory over the Germanic tribes.

Whatever it was, this might had been the first bulletin board, decorated with reliefs of naval battles, scenes of Romans battling Gauls and Germanics alike. Propaganda to remind everyone that Rome has been made great again…

Well, that wraps up the Roman era IN Orange. Is there more?

Hardly any gradient!

Now if you are driving towards Orange or Avignon from the west, you cannot miss out one of the Roman’s most impressive architectural feats – aqueducts. The Romans were masters of making city life palatable with fresh water. And it is at Pont Du Gard (a part of the overall Nimes aqueduct) that you can still see one of the best preserved pieces of excellent engineering preserved all the way from the first century AD.

It doubles up as a bridge

If you look at it, there does not seem to be a gradient in which water will flow right? True! In fact the gradient is only 0.03% but it was said to have brought 200,000m³ of water to Nimes everyday during its hey days!

See how large it is?

Isn’t that amazing?

And after the collapse of the Roman empire the aqueduct was in disuse for its original function. But in medieval times it was turned into a bridge to exact toll for crossing the river! This is the main reason it has been preserved so well.

Post Roman era

Apart from the arch and theater, the rest of Orange isn’t strikingly picturesque, however there are pleasant tree-lined streets and squares with some nice cafes and restaurants. It’s history after Roman times came to the fore of European politics. In the form of being the principality inherited by William the silent, liberator of the Dutch. His descendents went on to rule England! Today the royal family of the Netherlands continue to have the title of Prince of Orange, though politically the land has been absorbed into France.

And there are more interesting places in the area further out from Orange.

We drove to nearby Chateauneuf de pape, another site of famous wines not far from Orange. The ruins itself was not impressive, with only a few walls left. The region though is famous for its wine – sold for a premium.

Did you know the origins of the name? In the 14th century, the Papacy was contested during the schism of 1378. Rival political groups in Europe vied to have the Pope appointed…sigh. When this was finally over the chateau reverted to the ownership of the bishops of Avignon. Lack of funds mean it was not maintained – hence only a few walls left!!

Just around the corner are the caves of Thouzon near Le Thor. The caves were only discovered in the early 1900s when the hill was blown up for a quarry. We were allowed to take photos in the caves, even with flash…. There are numerous noodle thin stalagmites as the cave is small and thus little water work to deposit the calcium. Since the hill is rather small, roots can be seen creeping its way around the stones. At its lowest point, we would be about 30m below the ground.

The drive for us started out from Avignon. Because Orange is just half an hour away and easily explored, we had used the remainder of the time to explore other sites. There is indeed so much to see and Avignon was best placed for us to make these little journeys. Come enjoy the city and its surroundings, have an Orange!

This journey took place in June 2005

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