Despite its name, there are no oranges in the town of Orange. However, what you can find is a cute town with loads of history. We made an overnight stopover on our trip from the north to the south of France. Although we spent less than 24 hours in this town, we learned a lot about the Romans who once lived here.
The Roman town of Orange, originally named Arausio (after a Celtic water god), was founded in 35 BCE after conquering the Celts in the area. The Roman soldiers who conquered this area dealt with long marches and bloody battles alternating with long periods of boredom. After 16 to 25 years of service, the Roman government compensated by giving them plots of land in their newly conquered territories where they could retire, including this town of Orange. It was at one time considered a miniature Rome, with many of the same types of buildings, just smaller proportional to its smaller population. From there, it passed through different hands, including the Dutch, until it was finally ceded to France in 1713. Despite its history of conflict, Roman monuments and ruins remain, which make it an interesting place to visit.
The Arc de Triomphe d’Orange
Paris is not the only city with an “arc de triomphe”. Many other French towns and cities have them, and Orange is no exception. This Arc de Triomphe, or “triumphal arch”, was built by the Romans in the first century, probably between 20 and 25 CE, to commemorate the victories of Julius Caesar. As you can see from the photo, it’s a lot smaller than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. And with significantly less people and traffic. But considering that the Orange Arc de Triomphe is about 1800 years older, this smaller arch is impressive in its own right.
Roman Theatre of Orange
The main attraction of Orange is its ancient Roman theater. Built in the early 1st century CE, it is considered one of the best preserved Roman theaters in the world. Like many Roman theaters of the day, it was built into a pre-existing hill to give it amphitheater-style seating.
There used to be fabric panels that would stretch over the spectators, providing shade from the intense Mediterranean sun. This, combined with the cool corridors behind the seats, made the theater the best place to be in the summer. The theater was the center of Roman life. Admission was free and everyone (from the very rich to the very poor) came to the theater to mingle and relax. Events were scheduled very often, up to 100 theatrical plays per year, lasting the entire day. The reason between all of this entertainment was political – if the residents were happy, then they weren’t rebelling.
The theater suffered damage over the years, but in 1825, a massive project was launched to restore this ancient theater, gradually bringing it back to what we see today. In addition to its restoration, since 1869, Le Chorégies d’Orange (a French music festival) has annually taken place every summer, bringing the opera, ballet, and other performances back to where they once were. Unfortunately we weren’t there at the right time to catch one of these performances, but I’d love to come back to see one in the place where people watched 2000 years ago.
Right next to the theater are the ruins of a temple and altar dedicated to emperor worship, showing how closely religion and entertainment were in Roman times.
Eating in Orange
With less than 24 hours in Orange, we didn’t get much time to explore the food scene here. But we liked what we had!
For lunch, we tried Street Food Café, a cute little restaurant steps away from the center of Orange. The Asian-inspired dishes change often and are filled with tasty, fresh ingredients. I highly recommend it if you’re looking from something different than the traditional French cuisine (which we often are).
Although only in Orange for less than a day, we enjoyed our time in this town. It was well worth the visit to learn about Roman history in this region, and I would have loved to have stayed a little longer. But more of Provence awaited, and that’s coming up next…
To be continued…
Until next time,
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