Meet Rimbaud, your local Crusader!
Over the intervening period of 900 years, it's difficult to appreciate why noblemen and peasants alike scampered off with alacrity to be butchered in the Holy Land at the end of the 11th century. The prospect of confronting the Moorish hoards on their home turf in a harsh and hostile climate where field conditions lent themselves to the spread of epidemic disease hardly sounds enticing, but a persuading factor may have been that there were magnificent papal indulgences on offer (essentially celestial brownie points that guaranteed time off for good behaviour from the fires of Purgatory) on offer in return for the liberation of the Holy Land from the infidels.
The political factors which triggered the First Crusade were immensely complex, but ultimately the balance was tipped by a plea for assistance from Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos. Mindful of the recent Papal Schism between the Eastern and Western Church, Pope Urban II agreed to lend the Emperor assistance against the Turks as a gesture of reconciliation and consolidation between the two regions. This is sadly ironic, given the Western Schism between the Rome-based Pope and Avignon-based Antipope that tore the church apart barely two centuries later.
Rimbaud was Count of Orange and is famed as being the liberator of the strategically important city of Antioch and was also present at the liberation of Jerusalem. Like so many of his peers, he never made it back home, dying in the Holy Land - an honour that brought with it enormous kudos ... and further papal indulgences.
Rimbaud's distant forebears are the royal House of Orange, which went on to rule the Netherlands (the best known of whom is probably is William of Orange, who ascended to the British throne in 1689).
Non French-speakers may not immediately recognise that Rimbaud is pronounced 'Rimbo' - any similarity to more recent action heroes is totally coincidental!
Be amazed by the scale of Orange's Roman theatre!
Orange’s major claim to fame is its stupendous Roman theatre – with a stonking great 9,000 seater capacity, which makes you realise what a populus and important town Orange must have been two thousand years ago.
Southern Europe is happily sprinkled with Roman theatres in varying states of repair, but what is so extraordinary about the one in Orange is that the stage wall is still completely intact (a distinction it shares with only two others, one of which is in Turkey, and the other in Syria).
The theatre and was the focal point for entertainment in what must have been a bustling Roman town of Colonia Julia Firma Secundanorum Arausio ("the Julian colony of Arausio established by the soldiers of the second legion") - usually called Arausio for obvious reasons - and dates back to the first century AD (or CE if we're being politically correct). In line with the Roman policy of laying on "bread and games" to keep the populus happy, it hosted a range of entertainment including mime, poetry recitals and pantomime, all of which were free to citizens and paid for by a tax levied on wealthier citizens.
The Church forced its closure in 391 AD on account of its opposition to the sort of 'pagan' entertainment on offer and the theatre slowly fell into disrepair during the Dark Ages. During a period of religious conflict in the 16th century, townsfolk took refuge in the theatre as a place of relative safety, building houses directly on the stage and seating area.
The theatre would probably have become just another picturesque ruin had it not been for the attention lavished on it by the Director of Historic Monuments, Prosper Mérimée, who lovingly supervised its restoration over almost half a century between 1825 and 1869. On completion it became the venue for a regular Roman Festival - Les Chorégies d'Orange - an opera festival which takes place during the summer season (see website below for more details). It must be absolutely extraordinary to see opera performed in a venue that has been used for two millenia, and to sense the ghosts of legendary performers such as the Divine Sarah Bernhardt, who performed Phèdre here in 1903.
Pay your respects at the (other) Arc de Triomph!
Orange seems like an odd place to find a triumphal arch, but its quiet small town atmosphere belies the fact that a town that justified a 9,000 seater Roman amphitheatre must have been quite a significant place.
The Arc de Triomphe is located a short (10 minute) walk north from the town centre and commemorates the victory of the Roman legions over the Gauls in the Gallic Wars. The Romans were never shy to blow their own trumpets when it came to lauding their achievements, so as you might expect, the Gauls are depicted as a suitably miserable, defeated bunch on the relief carvings.
The age of the Arch was subject to considerable debate but now seems to be accepted to date back to the reign of Augustus Caesar (63-14 B.C.). More interestingly, it is the oldest triumphal arch with this design and thus serves as the template for later, more famous Roman triumphal arches such as the Arch of Septimus Severus and the Arch of Constantine.
In the Middle Ages, the Arch was incorporated into the town walls, which have since disappeared and the Arch was restored in the 19th century. At the time of my visit (September 2011) the Arc was undergoing further renovation.
Orange's Arc de Triomphe (in tandem with its remarkable amphitheatre) have justified the town being granted UNESCO World Heritage status on the basis of its outstanding Roman heritage.
Imperior August Statue
The huge statue of Imperior August in height of 3,5 meters is installed in a niche of a wall. There are concerts and opera representations in summer here.
You can watch my 1 min 34 sec Video Orange out of my Youtube channel.
- Theater Travel
- Historical Travel
Savour that incomparable Southern light!
Even to the artistically challenged among us, it's not hard to appreciate why artists such as Van Gogh and Gaugin gravitated to Provence to experience the uniquely beautiful light.
As ever, try to avoid photographing in the middle of the day when the bright light has a tendency to make things look 'flatter'. What you're after are those glorious glowing tones of early morning and late afternoon that make everything look even more picturesque ... especially appealing over the rim of your sundowner glass!
The picturesque Protestant Tower
Given that everything was closed by the time that we managed to drag ourselves from the Roman amphitheatre, I regret that I can't tell you much about the Protestant Tower in Orange except that it's picturesque!
The reference to 'Protestant' does interest me, however, since it is somewhat of an anomaly in a dominantly Catholic part of the world. Orange was originally a Carolingian fiefdom (a period in which Holy Roman Emperor and All Round Superman of the Dark Ages, Charlemagne, was the dominant figure) and the Dukes of Orange can trace their origins back to the 12th century with the legendary Rimbaud (see my other travel tip). Due to political manoeuvering and strategic marriages that I won't even begin to try and explain - largely because I don't understand them myself - the House of Orange triumphed against the Spanish and gained control of the newly independent United provinces of Holland in 1648. This established a dynasty that not only rules the Netherlands to this day, but also spawned William III of Holland, who - along with his wife Mary - ascended the British throne in 1689 after the prospect of more Catholic monarchs of the Stuart dynasty proved too unpalatable for the British Parliament.
Somewhere along the line, someone seems to have swapped religious horses, as by the mid 1500s the House of Orange was already resolutely Protestant.
Triviologists will immediately spot the link to the Orangemen of Ulster (in Northern Ireland), who are staunch Protestants and owe their name to having been supporters of William of Orange's claim to the British throne.
P.S. Confused? I am too! I think that this tip needs to come with its own atlas!
The audio tour of the Orange theatre is fantastic!
Entrance to the Roman theatre at Orange includes the hire of self-guided audiotour equipment, and, as with the audiotours of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the quality of the commentary is outstanding.
Whilst I think it's a pity that conventional tour guides have inevitably lost out in the wake of this development, from a tourist's point of view, it is a real bonus to be able to do the tour at your own pace and to customise your tour to include only what aspects interest you ... plus the added bonus of commentary from a fluent English speaker.
One added quirky aspect of this tour is that a couple of the little rooms under the stands that would have been originally set aside for the wealthy to retire to have been rigged up to provide a 'virtual' visual experience of the types of entertainment that have been offered at this venue over the past two millenia. I have to confess that the charms of Roman theatre went completely over my head (very odd indeed!), but I would dearly have loved to have been there for the psychedelic 70s concerts featuring Tangerine Dream and other artists whose drug and alcohol-induced states probably mean that they have little (if any) recollection of the events other than the ensuing hangovers!
Marvel at the stage wall of Orange's Roman theatre
I had long wondered how the audience kept their attention on the stage when they were gazing past the actors into the middle distance beyond, and to experience a Roman theatre the way it would have been when it was operational was an utterly different – and altogether more atmospheric - experience.
The presence of a postscaenium (stage wall) behind the stage area lends an unexpected sense of intimacy of the theatre, as well as assisting the acoustics. The stage wall also importantly provided a structure that could be used to support both props for the performance and awnings to lend shade for both artists and audience. Interestingly, although stage walls were common features of Roman theatres, Greek theatres tended not to bother with them.
Orange is the only Roman theatre in Europe that has an intact stage wall: there are two others - one at Aspendos in Turkey and another at Bosra in Syria - but obviously these are considerably less accessible for the average tourist.
The wall is very impressive from inside the theatre, but it's only once you see it from outside that you fully appreciate the grand scale on which it was constructed. It is 103m long and 37m high (about 340 x 100 feet in old money) and was splendidly described by Louis XIV - clearly a man with an ear for a soundbite - as, "The finest wall in my kingdom”. And finally having seen it for myself, I'd tend to agree!
The simple exterior of the Church of St Florent
Our only mistake in visiting Orange is that we could only spare half a day and we simply didn't anticipate how much time would be consumed by the spellbinding amphitheatre: this gorgeous town really deserves a full day of your time to appreciate it fully.
As a result, the other museums and tourist attractions were closed by the time that we emerged, including the Church of St Florent, patron saint of Provence', where several of the princes of Baux - who ruled Orange in the Middle Ages - are buried.
The exterior dates back to 1440 and has a very unusual unadorned 'low rise' architectural style. I can't ever recall seeing a building that looked quite like it, and I'd be intrigued to know whether the interior is similarly plain and angular.
Meet a really good looking griffin!
Those who have read some of my other European pages will know that I have a passion for gargoyles ... the more grotesque, the better!
This may not be a gargoyle, but being a griffin, it's almost as good. This quirky fountain is situated on the main road between the old town in Orange and the railway station - look for him on your right hand side.
The West Side of the Triumphal Arch
The west side is essentially a four pillared Corinthian narrow side with three panels each with a groups of three tall warriors. The upper warrior in each section holds above his head two shields and in addition two hold standards which have boars on them. The lower pairs of warriors are somewhat worn. Above this is a frieze of pairs of fighters which originally went completely around the Arch. Stlll higher on the west side are two splendid sirens with elaborately coiled bodies and flat fish tails.
- Family Travel
The South Side of the Arc de Triomphe
The upper South central facade of the Arc is very similar to that of the North but iare much more detailed in the lateral lower sections. The trophies of war are numerous in type . In the Southwest trophy group one can see that the Legions carries the boar as a herald. In another group are pieces of oars and everywhere are shields and helmets.
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A First View of the Arc de Triomphe
It is now believed that the Arc was started in 26 BC. There is also evidence that Augustus dedicated it in 10-11 BC. Damage was done by Raymond des Baux who built a castle onto and into it. With the restorations it is one of the best examples of a commemorative arch in existence and is the largest in France. The central upper block of the north and south sides of the Arc have elaborate bas-relief battle scenes with heavily equipped Romans, some on horses, versus naked Celts. The lateral lower bas-reliefs better detailed on the south side as is the lateral west side.
- Family Travel
The Other Sections of the Museum
The rest of the museum contains various materials accumulated over the centuries from military iron ware to kitchen utensils and dinner ware as well as many ancient apothecary jars and some 17C living room sets, ultimatley leading to paintings by Frank Brangwyn. But the most interesting items are a display of the Salle des Wetters. The interesting thing here is a set of 5 naive paintings made in 1764 by G. M. Rosetti for the Wetters family of one of the first examples of a giant industrial complex employing over 500 people at the edge of Orange which made printed cloth (called indiennes). Each step in the manufacture is depicted from the arrival of the cotton bales at the dock to the finishing in a large sewing room (before the advent of machinery).
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Enjoy A Visit to the Municipal Museum
Near the back of the theater beyond the Place des Freres Maunet is the Municipal Museum (whose entry is added to a visit to the theater). It has three part, the main one being amodest number of Roman pieces recovered from the structures nearby such as pieces of a frieze possibly from a frieze and another that was from a mosaic floor (in the gymnasium?). There are parts of statues possibly from the wall of the theater and the temple. There is a fine marble map of the town in this section but we did not see it.
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