Saturday, April 28, 2012

Market Day in Vaison-la-Romaine

When we reach the end of the Quartier de La Villasse Roman ruins (see previous post), we arrive at the market. In an interesting juxtaposition, we can look over the Roman ruins and also have a great view of the castle at the top of the Medieval village on the left bank of the Ouvèze River.

Around 1180, the men of the Count of Toulouse built a wooden tower strengthened by palissages (trellises) on the top of this hill to impose the image of the Count’s power on the citizenry. This was pulled down on the bishop’s order and replaced in 1193-1195 by this stone keep castle. Later, two buildings were added. The castle was modified along the centuries.

We always enter the market by La Poste (the post office) where there is a display of pottery of all kinds and colors from La Poterie de Crestet. On that Tuesday morning back in March, I asked the vendor where his pottery was fabricated. I expected him to tell me it was made in Crestet, a small village east of Vaison, and to my surprise he responded "Espagne" (Spain). He continued on to say you can't sell pottery made in Provence for these low prices.

We love going to the weekly markets for many reasons, not the least of which, the produce on display inspire me to cook dishes which utilize the most seasonal ingredients. Here there is display with a large quantity of fresh garlic and radishes. You can click on any of these pictures to enlarge them.

A vendor with his tapenades.

A big pile of local green and white asparagus.

Purple artichokes

Several butchers come to the market every week and display their cuts of meats and charcuterie.

The first strawberries of the season from Carpentras.

A tasty assortment of cookies. We have to have cookies on hand when grandson Dylan comes to visit as he expects to find cookies at Papa's house. He is strictly limited on his cookie intake at home. Yes I know, I am spoiling him.

A table with a big pile of fresh roquette (arugula) and other greens for salads.

Dried fruits of all kinds.

An assortment of different kinds of olives. There are also seasoned olives perfect for enjoying with aperitifs.

You can buy fresh ravioli.

Rice, grains and dried beans of all varieties.

Ingredients for making tea.

Jams and jellies of all kind.

Several cheese vendors set up their shop at the market every week. Full disclosure, I don't buy from any of them since I am partial to the cheese that Josiane Deal sells at Lou Canesteou just a few steps away on Rue Raspail off Place Montfort, the town's main square.

You can buy spit-roasted chicken and potatoes roasted in the fat drippings to go.

Another butcher.

Jambon (ham) de Sanglier (wild boar).

Our favorite fish vendor. Guy also comes to Sablet on Thursday morning. Last summer he came to the Friday morning market in Sablet but he says he is not doing that market this year.

The other end of the large Lafond truck. They have an amazing assortment of fresh fish and shell fish.

Early in the day and season so the crowd is not wall to wall like it will be later in the day and certainly not like it will be this summer.

A vendor selling an assortment of foie gras preparations. My guess is that this is a display never seen in the US and will for sure not be seen in California after July 1 when the production and sale of foie gras is outlawed.

There are numerous sellers of saucissons, dry sausages.

Of course, there are many sellers of souvenirs including these towels.

One of the many sellers of tablecloths.

Soaps from Provence.

They even sell soap made from donkey's milk.

We always finish up market day with coffees at the newly renovated Festival Cafe on Place Montfort; many times with good friends like Barbara from Cuisine de Provence, a wonderful cook who offers classes at her home in Vaison-la-Romaine or with Bruce and Christine who live in nearby Villedieu.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the market. Happy cooking and à tres bientôt.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Vaison-la-Romaine, a Town with Amazing Roman Ruins

We head off to the weekly market in Vaison la Romaine every Tuesday morning rain or shine. I am usually patient with Shirley and our guests about getting out of the house at a certain time except on Tuesdays. Like most towns, parking in Vaison on market day is not easy so we try to be there by 8:30 AM so we can park in the small lot near Notre-Dame de Nazareth Cathedral.

Vaison la Romaine is a quick 10 km drive from Sablet along a winding road and cross the Ouvèze River on the Pont Neuf (new bridge); there is a Roman bridge too (more about that in a future post). Vaison la Romaine is divided into two parts by the Ouvèze River; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank on top of a rocky spur is the old medieval town.

The market takes place in the center of the modern town. The cathedral near where we park was erected in the 11th century and its walls were reinforced in the 12th century on the site of a Palaeo-Christian church.

The city of Vocontii - southern capital of Vocontii, a Celtic tribe, Vaison (Vasio Vocontiorum) became part of Roman Provence at the end of 2c BC. Very early on it received the status of federated city (not colony) which allowed the town a lot of autonomy. Allied with Ceasar during the Gallic War (58 - 51 BC), the Vocontii lived side by side with the Romans.

Known for centuries simply as Vaison, the town didn't get the second part of its name until the early 20th century when Roman ruins were discovered beneath the streets of the modern town. From beneath the ground emerged the remains of a Roman city that covered 70 hectare/173 acres and had a population of approximately 10,000.

From the church, we walk along the north side of the Cathedral past a very large field of Roman ruins which border the path on the way to the main market area. I am embarrassed to say we hardly give a thought to how extraordinary it is to see these ruins every Tuesday morning.

What makes this site unique is the fact that it is made up of streets with shops and houses, rather than individual ruins like at Arles and Orange, so you get a sense of the overall layout of the town. While little remains of the town, only 15 hectares/37 acres have been excavated (the rest remains under the modern town), it is by far the largest archaeological site in France.

The Roman ruins are spread over two quarters; the Quartier du Puymin adjacent to the Office of Tourism with its Musée Théo Desplans (museum) and Théâtre Antique built in the first century AD (more about this in a future post) and the Quartier de La Villasse which we see on our walk up to the market.

These are ruins of shops along the central street of La Villasse.

This is one room of the Central Thermae (public bath) in La Villasse, most of the ruins of the Central Thermae remain covered by modern buildings, making complete excavation impossible.

A grand house.

More Roman ruins.

Roman ruins against a beautiful Provencal sky.

Amazingly well preserved.

You can buy a ticket which will give you access to wander at will through both quarters. But you can see almost everything without going in.

Roman ruins in a beautiful setting against the backdrop of the beautiful sky.

The La Villasse Thermae and Palaestra is where Romans bathed and exercised.

Roman ruins with a statue in the background.

Another view of the shops along the central street.

Looking down from the market area toward the Cathedral in the distance. At the front is the central street and shops. The Romans were very practical and built one street for chariots in the foreground and just beyond a footpath for pedestrians covered by a portico (many of the columns remain in place) to shelter the stalls and people from the sun and bad weather.

The Musée Théo Desplans (museum) displays artifacts discovered during excavation of the site.

Among the interesting articles found on display in the museum are large marble statues. To the left is a statue of Sabina, wife of emperor Hadrian, the next is emperor Hadrian (117 - 138) and the third is emperor Claudius (41 -54) wearing a crown of oak leaves.

More discoveries uncovered during excavations at the site.

More artifacts on display at Musée Théo Desplans (museum).

Items on display at the Musée Théo Desplans (museum).

Many mosaics have been uncovered in Vaison, some are severely weathered, others have gone to public or private collections. This one now on display in the museum, was found in the Peacock Villa in Quartier du Puymin. It is made up of stone, glass and terracotta to achieve very subtle shading and color.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.