Think of Roman influence in Eastern France… Thought it through yet? Well, I’m guessing if you know anything about Gaul, then your mind likely wandered to the foodie city of Lyon, a settlement that was known as Lugdunum during Roman times.
Well, in what is now just a quick fifteen-minute train ride away today, there was another thriving Roman community, perhaps the most important of its kind in this part of what is now France. The city of Vienne was once known as Vienna and here’s how to go in search of Roman Vienne locations today! Of note, and perhaps rather confusingly, is the fact that the city of Vienna in Austria was actually known as Vindobona.
Perhaps the most important historical site in Vienne is not the sprawling ruins of the Château de la Bâtie, nor is it the city’s former cathedral turned important church dedicated to Saint Maurice. Instead, Vienne’s most impressive archaeological site lies across the river, just outside the jurisdiction of the city.
The Musée Gallo-Romain-en-Gal can be found alongside the River Rhône, approximately 30 km South of Lyon. Comprising of a vast outdoor area (where you can see the former Forum, Bathhouses, Industrial Quarter, and more) as well as an indoor interactive museum, visitors of all ages will enjoy being fully immersed in the past in this stunning museum.
Temple d’Auguste et Livie
If you’re looking for one of the most impressive examples of a Roman surviving temple from all of Europe, let alone former Gaul, then you simply must head to Vienne’s city centre. After all, it’s here where you’ll soon spy the Corinthian columns of the Temple of Augustus and Livia.
Surrounded by coffee shops and close to the town hall, you could easily while away sitting on the square, sipping on an espresso and watching the world go by. The Temple of Augustus and Livia itself dates all the way back to 10 BCE and was centred in the heart of the Roman forum.
Though most temples of their kind were destroyed during early Christianity, this Roman temple survived thanks to its conversion into a Christian church at the turn of the 5th-century. Centuries later, the magnificent front was uncovered and restored during extensive works of the mid-19th-century.
Jardin Archaeologique de Cybèle
Truth be told, there is perhaps no better way to spend a sunny day in Vienne than whiling away the time in the Archaeological Garden of Cybèle. Situated close to the old wooden house that’s in the very heart of the city and surrounded by cobbled lanes, the Roman ruins were only discovered when an old hospital was demolished.
It’s thought that these crumbling walls were likely former homes of Roman forum council members. Today, highlights of this central park include plenty of beautiful arches, an important city house, and plenty of ancient doorways. Nearby, the Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie houses millennia worth of stunning artworks.
Smaller in size than the Ancient Amphitheatre, now all that remains of Odéon are a few crumbling walls. Once upon a time, much like the nearby Roman city of Lugdunum, the Odéon would have been where musical performances and the like would have taken place.
During this era, the Odéon would have seated around 3000 spectators. Constructed under the reign of Hadrian (the same Emperor under which Hadrian’s Wall between England and Scotland was constructed), this ancient theatre was likely built between the 1st and 2nd Century CE. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the Odéon was only formally identified in 1959, following the discovery a stele bearing the word ‘ODEV…’
Théâtre Antique de Vienne
If you’re looking to capture the best view of the city (i.e. a combination of the glittering River Rhône combined with the ancient theatre and sun-dappled rooftops of the rest of Vienne), then you simply need to head up to Le Belvédère de Pipet, one of the highest viewpoints of the five hills that arc their way around the city.
Once at the top, you’ll soon discover a small and simple chapel, as well as several placards that give a rundown of the highlights of the area. The Ancient Theatre itself once seated around 13000 spectators when the theatre was built in the 1st to 2nd Century CE. Today, the renovated theatre regularly holds concerts and spectacles and can seat up to 10,000 people!
La Pyramide (la Tombe de Pilate)
Around a ten-minute walk away from the train station, in the opposite direction to the main city centre of today, the pyramid of Vienne marks the place where the Roman Circus (hippodrome) would have stood, a little way outside the Roman Vienna city centre.
This would have been the place where chariot races and the like took place and the pyramid as it can now be seen today has not been moved or displaced since antiquity. Put in situ in around the 2nd Century CE, the Roman chariot circuit would have been 460 metres long and the pyramid would have sat at its very centre.
Up until the 19th-century, when a serious reinterest was taken in Roman monuments, no one knew quite what the pyramid had been used for. As a result, there were plenty of theories surrounding the monument in popular culture. One particularly prevalent idea was that the Pyramid was a funerary epitaph, thus being given the nickname ‘Tombeau de Pilate et son Aiguille’.