Vaison-la-Romaine: history and sights

Vaison-la-Romaine is one of the most beautiful towns in the south of France. The city is full of ancient ruins from the time when the Romans occupied the city. An amphitheater and a number of villas were built which then fell into disrepair. In the Middle Ages, a castle was built on the slope of Serre Long mountain. A better known mountain in the area is Mont Ventoux, which is regularly climbed by participants of the Tour de France. You can of course also climb the mountain yourself and enjoy the view over the beautiful old town of Vaison-la-Romaine.

Vaison-la-Romaine in short

Vaison-la-Romaine: les plus beaux

Vaison-la-Romaine is a town located in the commune of the same name in the Vaucluse department of France. Vaucluse is located in the southeast of France in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. The town of Vaison-la-Romaine is the only residential location in the municipality and is located at the foot of the Mont Ventoux mountain. The city is bisected by the Ouvèze River and lies partly on the slopes of the Serre Long mountain. 1884 people live in the heart of the city and 4171 people live just outside the city center (2014). Every year, 900,000 tourists (2014) plan a holiday or day trip to the city. In 2017, the city was voted one of the most beautiful detours in France, Les plus beaux détours de France, because of its natural beauty and many archaeological monuments.
Source: Saivo The history of Vaison-la-Romaine
The oldest human evidence found in the city are flint tools from Prehistory. The first to settle and write about the city was the Gallic tribe the Vocontii. Around the sixth century B.C. they founded the city of Vaison-la-Romaine which they called Vasio. In 125 118 B.C. the Roman legions occupied the area. Now that the city fell under Roman authority, the city was quickly expanded. In the lower part of the city, houses were built and an almost sixty meter long amphitheater that could accommodate seven thousand spectators. A bridge (pont romaine) was also built over the river, so that one could reach Serre Long mountain from the lower city.
Around the fifth century AD. the Roman legions were expelled from Vasio. The continuous raids of the Visigoths (an East Germanic people) caused the Romans to lose the city and contributed to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages (500-1500) the Visigoths continued to live in Vasio. During that period, the mountainside of the Serre Long was built on, including a castle.
As time progressed, homes and other buildings were built around the Roman and medieval monuments. Over time, the name of the city of Vaiso changed to Vaison. Only in 1924 was la romaine added in response to the existing Roman monuments, so that the city received its current name Vaiso, the Roman city. During the Second World War on June 10, 1944, the city was attacked by the German air force. A total of sixty German soldiers and seventeen French soldiers were killed. On September 22, 1992, so much rain fell in a short time that the Ouvèze flooded within a few hours. The flood killed thirty-seven people.

Climate and transport

The average temperature in Vaison-la-Romaine is 22.5 °C in the summer months (with common peaks of 33 °C) and in the winter months 10 °C (in the period 2005-2015). There is a Mediterranean climate with dry, warm summers, alternating with heavy rain showers and mild winters. The city does not have a train or tram station and bus services are mainly aimed at locals. This means that there are few buses outside peak hours. If you want to explore the area around Vaison-la-Romaine, it is recommended that you have a car at your disposal.

Sights in Vaison-la-Romain

The Roman site and archaeological museum

In the middle of the city is a large area filled with meter-high ruins, which are part of the archaeological site from the second century BC. and the Musée Archéologique Théo Desplans museum. The archaeological site consists of two large districts of fifteen hectares. The neighborhoods contain two villas, a number of bathhouses, an amphitheater and many homes and shops. A museum has been built at the Roman site where many finds are exhibited, such as statues, tableware and jewelry. The museum and archaeological site are open daily (except January) from approximately 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM. A ticket (8 for an adult in 2017) provides access to the museum and the two old quarters. For a fee you can be shown around by a guide. You can consult current opening hours and prices on the website.
Source: Saivo The old chapel St. Quenin
The St. Quenin chapel chapelle Saint-Quenin is considered one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque art (an art movement in 1000-1200) in Provence. The exact date of construction, the architect and client are unknown, but based on the building structure it is assumed that the chapel was built in the twelfth century. The building is subtly decorated with columns and cornices with motifs of acanthus leaves. The chapel was largely restored in the seventeenth century. Surrounding the chapel are 135 graves from the fifth to the end of the sixth century; a lot older than the chapel. It is very likely that the stone chapel replaced a wooden chapel. The chapel is named after the patron saint of the city St. Quinidius (c. 556 579) who is buried in the chapel.

The medieval castle

The higher part of the city (on the mountainside) consists of a castle complex that you walk through without even realizing it. The large beige brick walls, narrow paths and low stairs that characterize the complex were constructed in the twelfth to the seventeenth century. The first was the Château Comtal (Count’s Castle) built in 1195 by Count and Duke Raymond VI of Toulouse (1156-1222). More and more buildings were placed around the castle (for employees of the count and military personnel, among others). A thick wall was also placed around the castle and the buildings to protect the residents against raids. The strategically placed castle on top of a hill has slowly fallen into disrepair and is now a ruin. The many rooms are now furnished as dining facilities, shops or accommodation.

The medieval market

Vaison-la-Romaine is a special holiday destination where centuries-old culture is mixed with modern buildings and shops such as art galleries. The fact that art is important to the residents can also be seen at the local market, where beautiful decorative objects made of glass and copper, for example, are sold. The traditional market, which has existed since the Middle Ages, also sells food and dishes (salads, olive oil, truffles, etc.), pottery and ceramics, and brightly colored fabrics. There are four different markets that are organized almost daily. Current dates when the markets are organized are on the website.

Activities and outings in and from Vaison-la-Romaine

Walking and cycling on Mont Ventoux

The summit of Mont Ventoux is located about ten kilometers outside the town center of Vaison-la-Romaine. The 1912 meter high mountain is in the Provence region and is therefore called the Giant of Provence by the French people. It is unclear where the name Mont Ventoux (mountain Ventoux) comes from. Ventoux may be derived from the Provençal (a collection of old regional languages from southern France) word vent meaning wind or the name may relate to the Gaulish words ven and top meaning snow top.
The mountain passes are steep, have a number of sharp bends and are often included in cycling races, such as the Tour de France. The top of the mountain offers a beautiful view of the city of Vaison-la-Romain, among others. The top is, in contrast to the richly vegetated mountainside, quite bare. The bare areas of limestone you are standing on play a crucial role in the flora and fauna on the mountain. The limestone can absorb rainwater so well that the water penetrates deep into the mountain and becomes visible in the form of springs in several places. One of the highest sources is the Fontfiole, which is located on the north side of the mountain at an altitude of 1788 meters. In summer, when it is 22° C in the town at the foot of the mountain, it is much colder at the top of Mont Ventoux. The average summer temperature at the summit is 10 °C and the winter temperature is -27 °C on average.
Source: ChrisO, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0) A day trip to Avignon
If you haven’t soaked up enough Roman and medieval culture yet, plan a day trip to the World Heritage city of Avigon. This city is full of centuries-old buildings and is located about fifty kilometers south of Vaison-la-Romaine. A special attraction is the demolished bridge that crosses the Rhône. A children’s song Sur le pont d’Avignon has even been written about the Pont Saint-Bénézet bridge. The wooden bridge was most likely built by Saint Bénézet of Avignon (circa 1163-1184). The 899 meter long bridge with its 22 arches is said to have been completed a number of years after Bénézet’s death. In 1226, the bridge was destroyed during the siege of Avignon by the French King Louis VIII. In 1234 the bridge was rebuilt again, this time from stone. Due to lack of maintenance in the following centuries, the bridge did not withstand the flooding of the Rhône in 1669. All that remained of the fourteen-meter-high bridge are four arches with a total length of 120 meters.