Thursday, June 9, 2011

Full house in Roman Arles (then and now)

Arles arena. More pics here
09.06.11 Full house in Roman Arles (then and now); the river that springs from deep down and a town of waterwheels.
The Arena is Arles  is one of the best preserved of the many Roman remains in Provence. It attracted crowds of 20,000 at the start of the first millennium and does the same today for Spanish and Provencal bullfights. It was our first visit of the day and we had some great views over Arles not to mention a bridal party (fantastic dress!) arriving at the arena, presumably for photographs. 

Next stop was the nearby Theatre Antique, another Roman remain. This attracted 10,000 for each performance. Like the arena, it fell into decay, but was resurrected and today attracts big crowds for theatre events. Many other remains dot the city and after a visit to the Place du Forum, the social centre of the town, we saw a few more before ending up at a cafe near Les Thermes de Constantin, the remains of a palace, for lunch.

Nine euro bought me a plate of melon and ham, with salad and some tapenade on toast and, while waiting, we were served with a glassful of marinated olives. Not a bad lunch at all though the location was bothered by a capricious breeze.
Back to the gite then before heading off to two towns in the Vaucluse (to the east) with strong water connections. First stop was the attractive L’Isle sur la Sorgue. The river once powered 70 watermills. Nine idle wheels remain today and we saw a few as we enjoyed our stroll around, a stroll that included a stop at very tempting local patisserie.
Soon after we came to the town of Fontaine de Vaucluse. Here is the source of the Sorgue* which begins underground and then, in a natural amphitheatre of rock, erupts from an unfathomable depth and within a few hundred yards forms a fully fledged river.   
Nearby, is the Moulin a Papier Vallis Clausa which produces handmade paper, using a river powered waterwheel. The method is the same as that used in the 15th century. This is on the path up to the source as are many souvenir stands but they have their uses on a hot day as a bottle of coke or an ice cream is always appreciated! The town, like L’Isle de Sorgue, has quite a few riverside restaurants and each town is well worth a visit.
*In Switzerland, there is something similar though not the same. At the spectacular Trummelback Falls, melt water tumbles down from the mountains to start a river in the valley. Check it out here