Belisama Association

Posted on Jun 25, 2010 in category

We needed a sleep in today after such a big day yesterday. We were able to really enjoy the fantastic breakfast prepared by Aude and her husband Jean-Louis. I never thought I'd enjoy rolls and raspberry jam for breakfast! Despite our late start we still had another great day lined up with a 10.30 am interview with Philippe Turrel, President of the Belisama Association and Jacques du Guerny, Vice-President and translator if required plus a gradual ascent into the Department of Drôme, Rhône-Alpes Region to visit a special museum in the small village of Le Pègue.

Our interview with the Belisama Association at the Hostellerie le Beffroi was arranged by them to sound out our opinions on the archaeological experience at Vaison La Romaine, suggest ways to improve the site based on our experiences at other French sites and to discuss the relevance of this topic for Australian students. An edited version of the interview will be placed on the Belisama website for people in Vaison La Romaine to read.

Both Philippe and Jacques made us feel very comfortable on the balcony overlooking the Ouvèze River and the Roman 'Pont' although some of Jacques's questions did challenge me. We discussed the relevance of certain statues placed around the archaeological site, the role of the site's benefactor in the 1930's, Maurice Burrus, the fact that Nero's Prefect of the Preatorian Guard and co-advisor, Burrus, came from Vaison La Romaine, how Vaison La Romaine fitted into the Gallo-Roman big picture and the popularity of Ancient History in NSW schools today.

Jacques, Philippe and 'moi'

Jacques had also organised a trip to Le Pègue's museum, an unusual museum in France because this village's history goes back a long way to the Stone Age but more importantly its Celtic experience with Greece via Marseilles in southern France (founded in 600 BC) is clearly shown. Many artifacts from this museum were discovered over a 30 year excavation period from 1955-1985. Although only 25% of the site was excavated, a huge quantity of artifacts was found especially from 550 BC. The excavation clearly showed that Celtic trade and cultural exchange occurred in southern France well before the Romans conquered them.

Our guide today was a professional gastronomic journalist who travels the world reviewing high class restaurants, Patrice Thomas. Patrice conducted our tour in English with the occasional chat with Jacques in French, 'de rien'!

Patrice Thomas, a volunteer guide at Le Pègue Museum

Patrice began showing us a map that plotted the trade and exchange roads of the region. Le Pègue found itself at the crossroads of two trade routes: one heading to central and northern Gaul and the other road coming over the Alps to the south and western regions of Gaul. Accordingly, Le Pègue became very prosperous judging from the quantity and quality of the consumer items. They even tried to copy the imports from Greece but unsuccessfully. However, I rather liked Le Pègue ceramics.

Local Cavares tribe artisans tried to copy Greek Asia Minor pottery 525-450 BC

Proof of trade with Greece via Marseilles! Attic ware: black on red pottery

Patrice pointed out another reason why Le Pègue prospered along these transit routes- The Rhone at this time was too unreliable with marshy terrain. Prior to 300 BC the climate was more severe in Gaul. From 300 BC to AD 400 Gaul experienced a climatic change to a more Mediterranean stable climate that encouraged trade along the main rivers of Gaul; thus, Le Pègue lost its competitive advantage.

Religion in Le Pègue is interesting too: a few Celtic remnants are displayed. The stone stele of Taranis-Jupiter shows 'syncretism' or fusion of a Roman deity and a Celtic god with similar attributes.

Note the Celtic wheel symbol of life, destiny and the universe

Literally the 'wheel of fortune'

Also a Celtic bronze handle of a ladle was found that may have been used in a religious ritual. A similar design was found in the Celtic oppidum of Entremont in south-eastern France.

Mercury was also popular in Le Pègue, the god of commerce.

A tiny seal from gold a ring depicting Mercury

Celtic 'markers' or stelae later used in buildings

Another enjoyable part of the day was a visit to Jacques's favourite restaurant close to his truffle farm. The setting was superb overlooking his stone village's undulating, vine-clad hills. Merci Jacques for a great day; in fact, a great experience all round at Vaison La Romaine.

Friday 25 June was another 'on the road again' in the C5 day. We did plan to stop at Carpentras to see the Roman triumphal arch there but it was market day there and the place was packed and parking was at a premium. "C'est la vie!"

Our destination now was St Remy de Provence and the Celtic/ Gallo-Roman site of Glanum but on the way we stopped at Fountaine-de-Vaucluse. Here is the source of the Sorgues River and the subterranean spring is the biggest in Europe and one of the biggest in the world in terms of the volume of water flowing from it. This was an amazing sight for us because we are not used to seeing so much water flowing from a beautiful, crystal-clear pool.

Recent archaeological dives have confirmed that this site was popular in Gallo-Roman times as a sanctuary. Over 1600 coins and objects ranging from 80 BC to AD 450 have been found in the depths of the spring-308 metres!!!!

We managed to have some time to walk around the town of St Remy de Provence. The town prides itself as being the birthplace of Nostradamus and the setting of many of Vincent van Gogh's paintings.

Nostradamus Fountain

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