Posted on Jun 23, 2010 in category

It had to be a quick breakfast today despite leaving a magnificent view from the B&B's balcony, a good conversation with an Aussie couple from Fitzroy, Simon and Bronwyn, and of course, the delicious croissants. We had an appointment at 9.00 am with Jacques du Guerny, Vice-President of Vaison's prestigious historical 'Belisama Association'. Jacques is a 'retired' professional demographer who has worked for the United Nations in Asia and Africa for many years. He is passionate about the world's sustainability issues. However, his passion is now the history of Vaison La Romane and his heritage work with the Belisama Association. Jacques has been instrumental in assisting the Belisama Association to set up a virtual museum of Vaison's artifacts found in other French museums as well as those found in the world's museums such as the British Museum- a first in France.

Today Jacques has organised a tour of 'Puymin', one of two archaeological sites within the town. Our guide was Ana Maria Mélard who is a very experienced and enthusiastic guide at Vaison La Romaine's museum.

Jacques, Ana Maria and 'moi'

Originally the Gallo-Roman town of Vaison La Romaine comprised some 60-75 hectares but only a small part of this site has been excavated due to the town's development. Prior to establishment of the Gallo-Roman township around 20 BC, Vaison was a Celtic oppidum site based on the 'Haute Ville' hill on the left bank. The Vocontii tribe controlled the Ouvèze River area to the Alps and down the river to the Cavares tribal territory whose capital was Orange. Although little evidence remains of the Celtic period in Vaison, some proof of Vocontii life has been found around the medieval castle area. Enough for the background of Vaison, now for our tour!

Firstly, we visited the 'Maison à l'Apollon Laurée' one of the many 'grande' homes of the Vaison elite. Its surface area covers 1515.50 square metres but probably extended to over 2000 sq. metres due to the adjacent road. Its drainage system is very sophisticated carrying both waste along one channel and fresh water from at least one of two aqueducts servicing Vaison. Recently it was found that a special waterproofing plaster was placed along the wall of the house to ensure dry conditions inside the house. It has a Tuscan atrium and a large peristyle garden with rectangular pool.

The pool of the peristyle garden has been restored

Mosaics were found in five of its rooms with one marble mosaic still left in situ but covered with sand to protect it until restoration decisions are taken.

Also, there is a substantial kitchen with two big ovens much larger than any stoves I saw in Pompeii. Interestingly, the house seemed to provide a latrine service for the public probably as a magnanimous gesture.

Two large ovens to feed the patron's many clients

A large private latrine attached to the house but open to the road??

Here is the bust of 'l'Apollon Laurée' that was found in the house but is now conserved in Vaison's modern, well set out museum.

Musée Théo Desplans, a 'cool' way to break the two outside archaeological sites, 'Puymin' and 'La Villasse'

Another nifty feature of this house was its large private bathhouse. This was quite a luxury considering its size, hypocaust heating requirements and construction costs.

A small section of the bathhouse showing the sophisticated hypocaust heating system in the floor and walls

Adjacent to the 'Maison l'Apollon Laurée' was a beautiful portico garden. Measuring 64 x 52 metres the enclosure had three niches built into the retaining wall in which sculptures of deities were displayed. The niches also had the bonus function of strengthening the long retaining wall-ingenious!

Tourists can use special audio tapes by typing in the number of the site. Many tourists were using these devices throughout the two outside sites

Ana Maria, our guide, showed us the entrance of the aqueduct into the suburb and the remains of the 'castellum aquae' that distributed the water in three directions similar to the one in Pompeii and Nimes. Finally we reached the theatre of Vaison La Romaine.

The excavations and restorations of the Vaison sites are largely a consequence of a benefactor born in Alsace and later a Swiss industrialist in the 1930's. His vision was to create a park that all people could enjoy. He wanted suitable trees to be planted and a recontruction of Gallo-Roman times. The sculptures today that decorate the peristyle garden were found in the theatre and are out of archaeological context. However, they are still historically appropriate because Burrus wanted them positioned there to recreate the past for the citizens of Vaison. Like Fiorelli's plaster casts, Burrus' contribution to Vaison's archaeological history is also relevant.

A copy of Sabine, Hadrian's wife

Vaison's theatre was in the process of being set up for a concert. Burrus' wish to make sites accessible to the public in order to conserve them is now common practice in France. The theatre has been heavily restored to make it safe for modern concerts. Although this type of restoration work is controversial, it still does not detract from the original size and grandeur of this theatre that could hold 6000-7000 people.

'All the world's a stage!!!'

During the early excavations of the theatre a statue of Claudius and a dedication to him proved that the theatre had been built prior to his rule.

Claudius does not look like a fool here!

'La Villasse' is a beautiful site too. After a delicious lunch, we again had the stamina to explore this section of the Gallo-Roman town. There are many highlights of this section of town: the causeway with shops on either side, the Central baths, the enormous palestra and two grand homes of the Vaison elite namely 'Maison au Dauphin' and 'Maison du Buste en Argent'.

Boulevard of shops The palestra- public exercise area The Thermal baths

The 'Maison au Dauphin' was built over four stages beginning in 50-30 BC and ending in the middle of the 2nd century AD. The museum displays two models of this house showing its transformation from a 'villa rustica' or farmhouse to a sophisticated town villa.

A view of one of the two atria in the 'Maison au Dauphin'

The 'Maison du Buste en Argent' gets its name from a silver bust found in the house. Its 5000 sq metres includes a portico and gardens. The silver bust measured 29.5 cms but whose identity is unknown.

Silver bust A stroll through a porticoed garden

The 'mistral' had stopped blowing today so it was a great day to be out in sunshine of southern France. Voila!

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