Vaucluse (84100) Population: 27,989 Altitude: 50 m
Orange is an ancient Roman town in Provence, on the east side of the Rhône and north of Avignon. The historic center of Orange is like a small town with narrow streets, picturesque squares and its famous Roman Theatre and Triumphal Arch. Market day Thur.
Orange is a full-fledged town of about 30,000 people, but the ancient center is compact, interesting and easy to explore. The center of Orange is more like a village, and can be visited in a half-day, exclusive of the Roman Theatre and museum or exploring the hilltop park.
The old town is ringed by main roads on three sides, with Bvd Daladier on the north and east, and Cours Aristide Briand on the west.
Rue Madeleine Roch crosses the south side of the old town, with the Théâtre Antique on the outside edge and the large hill of Colline St-Eutrope extending south of the center.
Cours Aristide Briand is a double boulevard paralleling the main road along the west side of the old town. (In the Middle Ages this was the location of the defensive walls on the west side of the town.) The 19th-century municipal theatre [our photo] is at the south end of the Cours. Most of the week the Cours Aristide Briand is used for parking; on Thursdays it becomes a large and busy town market.
There a lot of small streets to wander in the center of Orange, but we didn't find many of them very interesting, except as links between some of the squares. The Rue Victor Hugo, for example, is a long narrow street leading from the center to the north edge; it's narrow and full of shops, but pretty low-market, grim and run-down. Continuing north from Rue Victor Hugo is Ave de l'Arc de Triomphe, the main road north from Orange, which goes out to the Roman Arc de Triomphe, about 6 blocks away (400 m).
Place de la République is a large square in the very center of Orange, ringed with colorful buildings, terrace café-restaurants, shops and even an all-weather covered carousel. Place de la République is guarded by the statue of Raimbaud II, Count of Orange, decked out in Knight's cloak and chain mail, ready to set out on the First Crusade.
Immediately north of Place de la République is the large open square of Place Clemenceau, in front of the Orange Town Hall (Mairie). There are some interesting shops on Place Clemenceau, and a few terrace café-restaurants, but it's a bit quieter that Place de la République. The town hall is an imposing building, and has a bell tower topped with an amazing campanile with bright gilding.
A small river, the Meyne, circles around the north side of town, passing tightly between buildings and backyard gardens. The cleanliness of this town-center river can be attested to by the fish it has. While taking a picture of a typically shady part of the river, a lad fishing first offered to move out of the way of our photo. He then held up his catch for us, proudly displaying a half-dozen or so foot-long fish.
Roman Theatre - Théâtre Antique
The Roman Theatre, located at the south edge of the town center, has a very large rectangular main building, with a tall, open stage and backdrop facing south, and ringed by a semi-circle of high, steep seats. There are archeological digs of the old Temple just outside at the western end of the arena building.
The theatre stage and backdrop are three stories tall. Not much remains of the facade, but one high statue and remnants of a few pillars. Still, it's an impressive sight. The best view of the stage is, of course, from the top of the arena seats. The steps up through the seats to the top are many, high and steep, with no reduced-mobility access.
The archeological digs of the Temple just outside the arena are mostly closed off. You can walk into part of the area, where two bright-blue porta-potties stand, but there's not a good view of the digs; you actually have a better view from the outside street, through the fence railings. There is a circular terrace behind the digs area, at the perfect height for a view, but that's privately owned by an up-market restaurant, and not accessible to most of us.
We found the cost (9.50€, 2016) a bit expensive for what you actually see. The price does include entry to the museum across the street, but not everybody would have wanted that as well. Other than just a visual tour, audio guides are included with the price of entry, and the information they provide is very good and very interesting.
Chorégies d'Orange - Summer Music Concerts, Every July-August the Roman Theatre of Orange hosts a series of classical music concerts.
Colline St Eutrope
Colline St Eutrope is the main green space of Orange. It has the municipal swimming pool (piscine) and a very large park area across most of the hilltop at the south end of the town center. There are open grassy areas, big shade trees, and walking and running paths, and a promenade botanique. Our photo shows a carved wooden statue that stands in a part of the park.
With an altitude of 105 m, this is the highest point in the area and has a commanding, and strategic, view across the town to the north. This site was occupied continuously prehistoric times until the end of the 17th century. In the 12th century, Count Raimbaud of Nice established his astrum Aurasice here. In the 14th century, the Princes of Baux built a fortress here, with walls and donjon, to resist the bands pillaging Provence in those times. In the 17th century, the original chateau, which had been severely damaged in the Wars of Religion was rebuilt into a formidable Citadel, with moats, towers and "extraordinarily" thick walls around the entire hilltop. And an esplanade big enough to hold 10,000 battle troups. In 1672, the Count of Grignan, under the orders of Louis XIV, laid siege to the citadel and eventually destroyed it, and its thick surrounding walls.
There's a fantastic view from parts of the hill, including across the plains to the Dentelles de Montmirail in the east, or down on to the Roman theater at the base of the hill.