Vaison-la-Romaine

 

Straddling the Ouveze river with the Roman vestiges on one side and the medieval on the other, Vaison-la-Romaine is a fascinating and elegant town, full of restaurants, cafes and shops, and very rewarding for those interested in either historical period.

Having started off as a Celtic oppidum on the heights to the south of the Ouveze, when the Romans came they preferred the flatter land to the north. Vaison-la-Romaine evidently was very wealthy as a Roman settlement, with a number of opulent villas, and much the same population as it has today. In the Middle Ages the population moved back to the heights, as all populations did in Provence then, for safety. The castle was built and some of it still stands in what is now the Haute-Ville.

In the 19th century the population, safe again, moved back down, and it was not until the 20th century that a local abbot started serious excavations of the treasure trove of Roman ruins.

There are two areas of Roman excavations – the Quartier de la Villasse and the Site Puymin, you access them either side of the tourist office. You can walk down paved roads past the foundations of the villas, baths, mosaic floors, colonnades, statuary, even a 6-person latrine. There are the remains of a Roman theatre and a museum to make sense of it all. But the majority of the Roman town is sitting buried under the modern town, never to be discovered.

You use another remarkable Roman remain to get to the medieval quarter of Vaison-la-Romaine – the bridge over the Ouveze river – still in use after 18 centuries. This spans the narrow ravine of the river and takes you to the Haute-Ville, with its beautiful, honey-coloured houses and castle, little squares and fountains, going back to the 13th century.

Vaison-la-Romaine market is on Tuesday mornings. In summer Vaison la Romains is a cultural hotbed with festivals embracing dance, theatre, and most notably choral music.