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The Charming Mountain Goat – Roman Roots

December 9th, 2011 · No Comments · Charming Mountain Goat, Provence, South of France

If you sail along the coast of the Côte d’Azur between Nice and St. Tropez, it becomes immediately clear why around 100 B.C.E., the Romans stopped off at what it now Fréjus.

After rolling hills, death-defying rocks and the never-ending skyline of the Alps in the distance, Fréjus is the first area where the Romans found a large wide flat opening that carries on for miles towards to foot of the Alps. Despite the marshy soil, it must have been relatively easy to land and commence the conquering of the north by foot.

The surrounding area is littered with the usual well-constructed and preserved buildings, Roman villas, viaducts, a theatre and an amphitheatre. When the ancient invaders arrived then, they built up first and truly cultivated its conquered territories. Perhaps nations, which are still a little obsessed with the conquering spirit, which appears to mostly involve destruction, should take note.

The first of the never-ending vineyards that start at the bottom of our village and produce 80% of all the rosé wines in France were first cultivated by the very same Romans 2000 years ago. Our village boasts a millstone in the hills, which was started by a band of Romans and then left because they moved on.

A few years ago, while building a square that now houses the new Fréjus tourist office, the builders came across the old Roman communal oven. It was “exhibited” behind a plastic glass wall while the work was going on. Today the square has completely covered it, but the architect has thoughtfully made reference to the town’s Roman roots through look of the houses around the square. Overall it creates a slightly nauseous feeling of a theme park gone wrong, but it’s there.

Impressive remains of the aqueduct which has its beginning in the mountain around Mons 26 km away, rises 34 meters and is classified as a historical monument, linger quietly throughout Fréjus. In places it looks as if it was built yesterday.

Further up near Mons, you can ride you bike inside a stretch of the waterway and if you look carefully, you can even see the marks of the tools the Roman workman used to hue out the stone. Even if you absolutely hate history, this is cool.

Fréjus’ jewel is however its Amphitheatre (not to be confused with a second Roman outdoor theatre on the other side of town) built in the first century. It could hold between 10.000 and 12.000 spectators.

Largely neglected, it had been left to ruin even though it was still being used for performances throughout the 20th century. During the 1980, some attempts were made to restore it.

And in 2007 the plan was hatched to restore it for use in the 21st century.

Hurrah!! Finally, the town was going to honour its heritage.

No.

Instead, a wild fight broke out both locally and in the French media as soon as the work started.

Because rather than approach the building sympathetically, a large crane and some concrete were delivered and have been poured into the site ever since. Today the site looks worse than the most modest social housing in the Var.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to change the colour of your shutters to a shade that does not conform to the official Provencal colours which look so great in photos and postcards and have been stipulated by the Town Hall, you have to ask permission.

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