Sunday, January 1, 2012

Orange, Gateway to Provence

Orange is located at the entrance to Provence for travelers coming down the A7 autoroute from the north; the A7 is also known appropriately, I think, as l'autoroute du Soleil - literally translated the motorway of the Sun.

At Orange, the A7 splits into the A9 autoroute which continues to western Provence and access to the Pont du Gard and Nîmes while the A7 autoroute continues toward Avignon, Marseille and the heart of Provence.

Orange is about 25 minutes from Sablet and best known to wife Shirley and me as the exit off the A7 and A9 to get home to Sablet. Orange is also where our insurance agency is located and the Tresor Public where we pay taxes for our house.

Orange is best known to most people for its Roman ruins, especially the Roman theater and the Triumphal Arch of Orange. Orange was a thriving city in ancient times - situated on the Via Agrippa - which linked the cities of Lyon and Arles.

Built in 20 BC to commemorate the campaigns of the Second Legion over the local tribes, the Arch stands on the north side of Orange on a roundabout on the busy N-7. It has three openings, flanked by columns and decorated with various reliefs of military themes, including naval battles, spoils of war and Romans battling Germanics and Gauls.

The Théâtre Antique d'Orange - literally translated as the Ancient Theatre of Orange is an old Roman theater built in the 1st century under the reign of Augustus in the heart of Orange. It is now owned by the town of Orange and is the home of the summer opera festival, the Chorégies d'Orange.

The exterior facade of the Roman theater is a stone edifice 103 meters or 338 feet long and 36 meters or 118 feet high. Louis XIV is said to have described the facade as “The finest wall in my kingdom”.

The Roman theater of Orange is a wonderful remnant of the Roman Empire. It owes its fame in particular to its magnificent stage wall, amazingly well-preserved and unique in the Western world. It is the only Roman theater to have preserved its stage wall almost entirely in tact.

The Romans built the terraces for the theater seating against the existing Saint-Eutrope hill to make the construction easier and the completed theater more stable.

The theater's stage wall was very important as it helped to properly project sound and comprised the only architectural décor in the theater. The theater's original height of 36 m/118 feet has been entirely preserved. The wall was richly decorated with slabs of multicoloured marble, statues in niches, and columns.

The only remaining authentic statue is the 4 m/13 feet high statue of Augustus in the central niche, used to symbolize the universal presence of the emperor. You can see the new roof built to protect the stage wall.

The stage wall had three doors, each of which had a unique function. The royal door in the center was used by the principal actors for their entrances. The two smaller side doors were for the supporting actors.

A panoramic view out over the town of Orange from the top tier of the Roman theater.

Another view from the top tier of the Roman theater.

Arched walkways which encircle the terraced seating area.

The terrace seating was constructed in a half circle around the stage and could accommodate 8000 to 10000 spectators. Mime, pantomime, poetry readings and the "attelana" (a kind of farce) was the dominant form of entertainment, much of which lasted all day. The entertainment offered was open to all and free of charge.

As the Roman empire declined during the 4th century, the theater was officially closed and remained abandoned until it became a defensive post in the Middle Ages and then a refuge by townspeople during the 16th century wars of religion.

A nearby statue of the troubadour-prince Raimbaut d'Orange in Place de la République.

We drive past Orange frequently but we have not spent a lot of time exploring Orange except to visit the Roman theater and the Triumphal Arch. So we will have to return another day to more fully explore the rest of the town.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.


  1. Happy New Year Shirley and Michel! Trust me: you have already seen the highlights of Orange. The town itself is really not much to write home about to put it nicely.

  2. Barbara - Happy New Year Barbara and Robert. That's the impression I have from our drives through town looking for parking. Some towns and villages exude charm, quaint, cute, beauty but have not felt drawn that way to Orange so far.

  3. nice pictures! It looks so nice when it isn't pouring buckets.

  4. I'm fascinated with Roman ruins, especially amphitheaters. I've always wanted to see Orange. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful photos!

  5. Hey, I think you stole my pictures :) Ha. Just kidding! I have nearly the same shots as you. I just love the theatre. I have only been to Orange once and it was when the kids were very small. I just love the city and there is so much to see there. I am in love with all things concerning Roman ruins so it is a great place to venture around!

  6. Lovely photos and portrait of Orange - given we spent 3 years in Rome, been waiting to visit these sights for quite a long time. Lots of great info to add to our trip-planning, thanks :)

  7. Megan - As I recall, several of my trips to Orange have occurred during huge rain storms. It is definitely nicer there when there is sunshine.

    Camille - You are welcome. The theater is definitely worth a visit. The back wall is spectacular.

    Ashley - There are probably only a few ways to shoot pictures of the theater so its likely our photographs are quite similar. You will have to make a return visit.

    Tuula - You will have to make a trip to the Northern Vacluse to visit our area; lots to see.