Not everyone who goes to Provence makes a stop in Orange, France. I’m unsure why because it’s not far from famous places like Avignon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Plus, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
I’ve been to Orange, France, three times now for three different reasons. The first visit was with my son when he came to Uzés to see me for the first time. It was a “drive-by” to take photos of the Triumphal Arch and the Roman Theatre (Théâtre Antique) and stop at Vaison-la-Romaine. Mon fils love to go to as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible. He’s also an excellent photographer, so I share most of his photos. The second visit to Orange was to attend the opera Madame Butterfly at the Théâtre Antique d’Orange. The third trip was for a meeting of Network Provence (women’s business group), which gave me another chance to explore the theatre and town.
Orange is a town of just over 30,000, only 20 km (12.7 miles) from Avignon. It was founded as a Roman city in 35 BC. Like Nimes, Orange was established by Roman soldiers who were awarded land for their service. Also, like Nimes, the town was a cultural center with impressive structures like the Roman theatre, built before 25 BC.
1) The Roman Theatre (Théâtre Antique d’Orange) is the first good reason to visit Orange, France
One of the best-preserved theatres from Roman times, the Théâtre Antique was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It still has its original stage wall, which is the external wall. Once covered by an awning, the stage is now covered with glass. The theatre has three tiers, which can seat up to 9,000 spectators. The best seats are up front, although none are what you would call comfortable. Hard as a rock, as a matter of fact.
2) The Opera is the second good reason to visit Orange, France
In 1869, the Théâtre Antique’s three tiers were restored so the venue could rediscover its past, hosting performances of the great Greco-Roman tragedies and promoting French authors. Since 1971, the theatre has been home to one of France’s leading summer opera festivals, the “New Chorégies.”
Last year, I splurged to buy a ticket for “Madame Butterfly.” Seeing it in the magnificent amphitheater was one of my most treasured memories of France. It’s well worth the cost to just be there.
3) The third excellent reason to visit Orange, France, is to see and experience the country’s biggest and most important sites of Gallo-Roman artifacts
Even if you’re not into history, you can’t help but be amazed by the ancient structures, including whole cities of Roman ruins that remain in and around Orange. In addition to the Théâtre Antique, a Roman Temple was discovered during the excavation of the amphitheater. A Roman arch is a famous landmark in Orange, and not far away are two Roman neighborhoods in Vaison-la-Romaine –Puymin and La Villasse. Once part of the Roman city of Vasio, the neighborhoods span over two eight-hectare sites. While there, they can stroll along the paved streets where the Romans lived, worked, and shopped. You can walk through the homes of the town’s wealthiest families. You can see what remains of the fountains and pools, the kitchen, the living areas, and the garden. You can witness the grand design of “Maison à la Tonnelle,” a 3000-m2 “mansion” built on 3 levels.
The paths of the two neighborhoods lead to a Roman theatre unearthed in 1912. Dating from the 1st century BC, the theatre could seat 7000 people. Today, it still serves as an event venue for theatre, chorales, and dance. In the center of the Puymin site is the Théo Desplans Archaeological Museum. It contains a collection of more than 2,000 everyday objects and decorative statues.
Other reasons to visit Orange are the little shops and alleyways with all types of French things…