Our stop in Orange was our first chance to see Roman ruins in France, but certainly not our last. We began at the Théâtre Antique, or the Roman Theatre, that is supposedly the best-preserved theater in Europe. It was built in the 1st century AD under Emperor Augustus and was the first of its type to be constructed in France. The theater was abandoned in the Middle Ages when the church thought plays were immoral - during that time it was used for defense and some homes were even constructed within the theater. In 1825 restoration began and nearly 50 years later the first performance in centuries took place in front of an audience of 10,000. Plays, operas, ballets, concerts, and re-enactments continue to this day in what is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We walked all around, up and down, and throughout the theater while listening to an informative and actually interesting audio guide (not all audio guides are created equal!). The theater really is a beauty and a marvel, considering it was built over 2,000 years ago. It's hard for me to imagine 10,000 people, 10,000 ancient Romans at that, crowded into the theater to watch a play thousands of years ago...perhaps it would be easier if I watched one there now ;)
D - The theater as it stands today is really just a shadow of its former glory. In its heyday, the stage would have been completely covered with columns and classical style statues. The theater of today also has a very modern roof as opposed to the original wooden one. Still, it's neat to go and explore something that is still around from 2,000 years ago.
We didn't spend much time in Orange after visiting the Roman Theatre, but we did make a quick stop by the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth, also known as the Orange Cathedral (which dates from the 4th century!) and the Arc de Triomphe, or Triumphal Arch. The Triumphal Arch was built in tribute to the veterans of the 2nd Gallic legion who founded Orange and features a variety of elaborate decorative carvings all over the surface from shields to helmets to banners. The restaurant we were interested in eating at for dinner in Orange was closed (Mondays in France!) so we continued on to Vaison-la-Romaine, where we were staying the night.
See more from our road trip around southern France: our day in Toulouse here, and all of our stops on our first day: Cahors, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Bouzies, Rocamadour, Padirac Cave, Loubressac, and Figeac. We began our second day in Marcillac-Vallon and Belcastel, made a stop at the Viaduc de Millau before heading into the Gorges du Tarn, and finally checked out the lovely Sainte-Enimie. That night, we stayed in Le-Pont-de-Montvert.