France, The Roman Empire

The Pompeii of France

Vaison-la-Romaine (Latin: Vasio Julia Vocontiorum), sometimes referred to as “The Pompeii of France” is a commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France, and indeed has many wonderful Roman ruins. Both in the upper and lower parts of the city divided by the Ouvèze river, an area that has been inhabited at least since the Bronze Age. In the late 4th century BCE Vaison became capital of the Vocontii, a Celtic tribe.

The Roman conquest in (125-118 BCE) still allowed the Vocontii some autonomy as they managed to maintain their religious center in Luc-en-Diois. Vocontii authority in the Romanization of the Celtic oppidum (large fortified Iron Age settlent) meant the city plan wasn’t completely done over according to Roman orthography. Modern archeology (work done by Christian Goudineau) suggests that Vocontian aristocrats moved down from the oppidum and established villas along the river, around which the Gallo-Roman city then grew.

Vasio would become one of the richest cities of the Roman province Gallia Narbonensis, with many geometric mosaic pavements and a small theatre, probably built during the reign of Tiberius as his statue was found in a prominent place on its site. Also found in the theatre during the 19th century was The Polyclitan Vaison Diadumenos (now in British Museum) and Augustan historian Pompeius Trogus is an example of a prominent Roman born at Vasio.

Barbarian invasions then soon followed after the first raid hit in 276, from which Vasio actually recovered, but in the 5th century the state of affairs where such as the general disorder meant that Christians had began reusing the theatre benches as tombstones. Vaison then first belonged to the Burgundians, was taken by the Ostrogoths in 527, then by Clotaire I, King of the Franks in 545, and then became part of Provence.

Vaison-la-Romaine is well worth a visit, it’s obvius provencal charm aside it’s of particular interest for its geography and Roman ruins. The valley floor was safe from attacks during both Roman and modern times but during the Dark Ages attacks were frequent, and the medieval town retreated high on the rocky cliff to a more defensible position. The Roman ruins are found down in the valley on the banks of the river crossed by an ancient bridge from the 1st century CE, where the modern town is also located.

Reconstructions and fly-over shots in the film are by the Musée archéologique de Vaison-la-Romaine , Additional shots of the bridge from the film Vaison ville romaine éternelle. 

The song in the film is ’Dark Heart of the Woods’ by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016