10 of the Best Roman Sites in France

10 of the Best Roman Sites in France

1. La Maison Carrée

La Maison Carrée is an extremely well preserved Roman temple in Nîmes. It is one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the world. It managed to survive the turbulant times that followed the fall of the Roman Empire as it was converted to a church. For those interested in seeing Roman sites and remains in France, La Maison Carrée is a must.

Through the ages La Maison Carrée has been used as a consul’s house, stables and the town’s archive. It has been partly renovated and restored over the years, but remains true to its Roman origins and is certainly not a recreation. Visitors can view this stunning structure in all its glory as well as watching a multimedia presentation inside the building which brings Roman Nîmes back to life.

One of the most important military conflicts in the history of the Roman Empire, the Battle of Alesia took place in 52 BC. One of the defining military successes of Julius Caesar’s army, his victory saw the Roman seizure of Gaul as Casear overcame the Gallic leader Vercingetorix. Roman victory marked the end of the Gallic Wars and a critical moment in the expansion of the Empire. It is considered a prime example of siege warfare. While the specific location of the site is unknown, it is believed by many historians to have taken place on Mount Auxois. The Battle of Alesia is a defining aspect of Caesar’s legacy as a military leader and by extension the supremacy of the Roman Empire

One of the most iconic sites in the ancient and modern capital city of Rome, the Forum can be considered the most important. The building functioned as the epicentre of Roman political, judicial, cultural and commercial life. The Forum served as the backdrop for trials, political debates, speeches and even forms of entertainment such as gladiatorial combat. Many of the city’s other important buildings were located near the building due to its fundamental importance to Ancient Rome. As the Empire progressed, its functions became increasingly decentralised and moved elsewhere. Regardless, The Forum remains arguably the most historically significant government complex of all time.

The 10 Best Practical Places to Explore Ancient Rome

The legacy of the Roman Empire can be found in far more places than you might imagine. Many of the most interesting ancient sites, however, are located in countries and regions that are difficult or dangerous to visit. But that doesn't mean you can't get your fill of ancient Rome in more practical places and, to help you explore with ease, the folks at history travel website Historvius have put together their top 10 list of practical Roman destinations.

And if that's not quite enough for you, there is another way. Historvius have also launched an incredible new iPad app which lets you virtually explore some of the world's very best Roman ruins from the comfort of home. So whether you're seeking easy sites to visit in person, or want to explore without the hassle, there's tons of options that will help you on your way.

France: Paris and Beyond

France is packed full of ancient Roman attractions. In fact, some of the very best ruins in the world can be found here. Whether it's a city-break in Paris - where you can explore the hidden Crypte Archeologique or Paris' Roman baths and amphitheatre - or exploring further afield to take in sites such as Pont du Gard, Nimes Arena or the Theatre of Orange there's a huge Roman legacy in France, making it one of the top destinations for seekers of ancient Rome.

Turkey: Ancient Treasure Trove

For seekers of history Turkey is hard to beat. With a wealth of ancient sites from several prominent civilizations, Turkey combines it all with great weather and modern tourist resorts to offer a truly appealing historical holiday. There are loads of cities from the Roman age here, probably the best of which are Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Olympos and Perge.

Spain: Picturesque Ancient Attractions

Spain is an oft-frequented hotspot for sun worshippers. But two thousand years before hordes of Northern European tourists descended on the beaches of Spain it was their Italian neighbors who came-a-knocking, in the form of relentless Roman legions. Spain remained part of the Empire for several centuries and today a number of scenic coastal archaeological sites remain to be explored, chief among which are Empuries on the Costa Brava and Baelo Claudia in Costa de la Luz. Inland too Spain has a number of excellent destinations for fans of ancient Rome, particularly the city of Merida which is packed full of stunning sites.

Cyprus: At the heart of the Ancient World

Cyprus is a popular tourist destination known for its multitude of resorts, beaches and entertainment. But placed as it is in the heart of the Mediterranean this island has also been hugely important to the history of the region and has seen some of the most famous ancient civilizations conquer, occupy, rule and crumble through the centuries. Today this rich historical heritage has left Cyprus with a wealth of archaeological wonders, of which the Roman-era remains rank among the best. From the relatively well-known site at Kourion to the obscure Amathus and the rich archaeological site at Nea Pafos, this island is a great way to combine sun, sea and history.

United Kingdom: More than just the Wall

The island of Britain formed an important part of the Empire for hundreds of years and has a number of famous places from the Imperial era - the best known of which are the renowned ancient baths at Bath and of course Hadrian's Wall. But there are many excellent Roman-era destinations in Britain, of particular note are the fortifications of Portchester Castle and Pevensey Castle and the villas at Bignor, Lullingstone and North Leigh.

Italy - Campania: Beyond Pompeii

Campania is not only an idyllic destination but it's also home to one of the most famous of all Roman places, Pompeii. Yet beyond this ill-fated ancient metropolis there's a wealth of other great sites which can be explored in the region. Indeed, Pompeii's close neighbor Herculaneum ranks among the very best remnants of ancient Rome in existence. Also nearby is the Greco-Roman city of Paestum and the Roman villas at Oplontis and Boscoreale.

Germany: You'd be Surprised.

Most people think of Germany as lying outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire. In fact, Germany west of the Rhine was very much Roman territory, indeed it was one of the most important frontiers Rome had. Today there are some fine Roman remnants which can be explored in Germany, particularly in the town of Trier near the Luxembourg border, which boasts the largest single intact chamber to have survived from the Roman period as well as an impressive Imperial baths complex and an ancient amphitheater.

Portugal: Holiday with History

Today better known for its golfing resorts and beachside villas, Portugal offers the history buff a host of interesting archaeological sites to explore. From the Roman era, this country has a number of fascinating ancient cities and settlements, the most famous of which are Conimbriga, Milreu and Mirobriga. But for pure ease of exploration, it's hard to beat the ruins of Troia which are located just yards from the accompanying modern holiday resort. Ancient exploration has never been so lethargic.

Italy - Rome: Heart of Empire

It may seem obvious to see Rome as the best place to explore the legacy of this ancient civilization. After all, it was this city which saw the birth of Roman life and it was from here that the Roman world expanded into Empire and ruled over millions. Yet due to its very significance this famous city suffered far more than many other regions when the Roman world finally collapsed. The center of Empire was lost, sacked, reconquered, fragmented and pulled apart over the centuries, leaving many of the most stunning Roman architectural achievements in ruins. However, that's not to say there aren't still a great many Roman wonders to explore here, quite the opposite. But although some of the most famous sites - such as the Colosseum - are truly spectacular, others are a bit of a letdown, particularly places like the Roman Forum, which offer just a shadow of their ancient grandeur. For some of the very best remnants of Rome to be found here you have to make a little more effort - sites such as Ostia Antica, San Clemente, Trajan's Markets, the Baths of Caracalla and Hadrian's Villa represent just a few of these incredible places.

Greece: Ancient Fusion

Greece is a country synonymous with history. But alongside the incredible remains of their own ancient civilization, Greece is also flooded with ruins from ancient Rome. Indeed, with these two ancient cultures fusing so completely for hundreds of years it can be hard to tell one from the other. To explore the Roman influence on Greece you can start in Athens with sites such as the Theatre of Herodes Atticus and the Roman Agora. But you can also head further afield to places such as Eleusis or Gortyna in Crete. And don't forget the hugely important events in Roman history that took place in Greece at sites such as Pharsalus and Philippi.

19 Chedworth Villa, England

The largest Roman villa in Britain is located in Chedworth, just outside Gloucestershire. The villa was part of a network of villas in the Cotswolds’ built in the second Century, once this part of Britain had been conquered and was Romanized. The villa itself disappeared from history during England’s turbulent history, until a gamekeeper tripped over a piece of mosaic sticking out of the ground in 1864.

Today you can wander through what would have been rooms and baths, and you can even see the kitchens and the grand, elegant courtyard where Roman nobility would have entertained each other!

3. The Poulnabrone Dolmen, the Burren, Ireland

The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, Ireland

Ireland is another country littered with interesting ancient sites. One of the most striking is the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This tomb dates back to the Neolithic period and consists of large flat slabs of stone that create a 9m burial chamber.

One of the reasons it is so striking is its location. The Burren is a barren rocky area covering about 250km 2 of County Clare, Ireland. There is very little vegetation, and the tallest thing you can see over the landscape is the Poulnabrone Dolmen.

Battle of Tours/Poitiers 732

Print Collector / Getty Images

Fought somewhere, now precisely unknown, between Tours and Poitiers, an army of Franks and Burgundians under Charles Martel (688–741) defeated the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate. Historians are much less certain now than they used to be that this battle alone stopped the military expansion of Islam into the region as a whole, but the result secured Frankish control of the area and Charles’ leadership of the Franks.

Arc de Triomphe

Also worth seeing is the Arc de Triomphe. The triple-bayed Arch is just north of the center at the entry to the town on the N7. Built around 20 BC and dedicated to Tiberius, the Arch was part of the Via Agrippa, the famous Roman road linking Lyon to Arles. It’s sculpted with the campaigns of the Second Legion. Get up close to see the carving, still remarkably intact, depicting great battles and the triumphant naval fight of Augustus against Antony and Cleopatra.


Situated on the marshes of Camargue, Aigues-Mortes is another city that has remarkably maintained its original medieval architecture. The 13th-century walls still protect the city and provide a living example of medieval military fortifications. The Camargue is also worth exploring, as it is a rare European natural habitat for flamingos and provides a home to wild Camargue horses (known as Camarguais). See beautiful pictures from Chamelle Photography here.

19. Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, with most historians believing it was first built in the 4th century. The church has impressive mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries it has been enlarged and restored over the years.

Located in the popular Trastevere neighborhood, its atmospheric piazza is enhanced by the mosaics on the façade, especially at night when the church and its tower are illuminated.

Roman sites around Lyon

While I am the Medieval scholar between the two of us, my husband adores Roman sites. Any day trips from Lyon that might get us to some Roman ruins? Any Medieval monestaries or convents in the area? Thanks so much!!

I haven't been to Vienne, but I remember that a knowledgeable poster mentioned Roman sites there. There's some high-level info in the Wikipedia entry:

It's a short train trip, as little as 20 minutes. There are departures from both of Lyon's stations.

Vienne was a major Roman city and port with a series of at least five sites to visit today. There is an excellent Roman museum across the river from Vienne. In addition, Vienne has an excellent Gallo-Roman through early Medieval museum in a de-consecrated early-Medieval church called Musée archéologique Saint Pièrre. I've been to a lot of Celtic, Gallo-Roman, and Medieval sites and museums all over France. This one was especially memorable, along with the Roman museum across the Rhone.

Lyon has an excellent Celtic and Gallo-Roman museum the whole area is a haven for Gallo-Roman and Medieval. Lyon was the capital of the Gauls.

Lyon to Nimes Pont du Gard by TGV isn't available at this time. A visitor could also get off at Avignon, but from either station, they would have to rent a car. Thirty minutes is pretty fast even for a TGV.

Another incredible vestige is the Roman theater in Orange, but again, it's too far for a day trip.

The fastest rail connections I see right now (direct TGVs or Spanish AVEs) take about 1 hr. 20 mi. from Lyon to Nimes. Those trains seem to be taking a straight route, only stopping in Valence.

Vienne is worth a full day easily so long as you've done your homework beforehand and/or get a good guided walk through the local TI -- I happened to luck out one morning there at the cathedral (where Pope Clement nixed the Knights Templar in the 14th c) and sat in a back row at a baptism that included a little organ recital on their very old instrument.

There is a park with some protected (poorly) paving stones from the Roman road similar to what you see in south Rome but with 1/10th the people traffic, and a patina-ed statue of native poet Andre Rivoire as well

The medieval castle ruins up the hill are privately held but if you apply a little ingenuity and sweat equity you can check them out as well.

Lyon Part Dieu's train station is a 30-minute direct train ride away from Nimes Pont du Gard station

I'm sorry but that just can't happen. It is about 300km between the two stations and the fastest TGVs only do 320km/hour. It takes 1:20 by TGV. Then you have to get to the Pont du Gard which is 21 kilometres away - about 25 minutes if you have a car, and then a fair walk.

In addition to Lyon's Gallo Roman museum, There are three main roman sites in Lyon itself: two on Fourvière Hill which the Gallo Roman museum overlooks (ampitheatre and odéon), and a smaller ampitheatre at the base of Croix Rousse, a hilltop section of Lyon that formerly was a center for silk weaving. The ruins at the foot of Croix Rousse were for the Gauls, the Celtic people native to the area, whereas the two on Fourvière were for Romans. Lyon (Roman name Lugdugnum) was the capital of Roman Gaul because of its location at the confluence of two major rivers and other transportation routes to what is now Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. Two Roman emperors were born in what is now Lyon (Claudius and Caracalla). I've read that there have been some thermal baths excavated in Lyon, but I've never seen them. I think they're in the 5th arrondisement south of Fourvière.

Roman Lyon also was served by aqueducts, and there are several remnants of the Aqueduc du Gier (fed by the Gier river, a tributary to the Rhône) scattered around the area. Probably the biggest remnant is located southwest of central Lyon, near Chaponost.

Others have mentioned Vienne, so I won't address that. A medieval spot you might want to visit near Lyon is Pérouges, which one can reach by mass transit from Lyon and a hike up the hill to the town. It's quite photogenic and has been used as the setting for several films set in the medieval era.

There are several active monasteries around Lyon, but not all of them are tourist spots. Some, especially to the north in Bourgogne (Burgundy) welcome tourists, such as Fontenay. And of course there are the ruins at Cluny, about 70 minutes from Lyon. I'm sure there are folks who know far more about those than I do. One thing I thought I'd mention, though -- if you'll have a car there's a remarkable network of romanesque churches, most if not all attached to Cluny, scattered around the area north of Lyon. Paray le Monial (about 90 minutes northwest of Lyon) has one of the larger ones, but one can find them in many towns and villages in Bourgogne. This site (in French) has a useful inventory, broken down by département, with links to each structure that provides additional details.

Lyon has plenty of Roman stuff. The museum and surrounding site are extensive.

A trip to Vienne would be even more.

The medieval scholar should be able to find monasteries within reach of Lyon, such as Cluny?

Paray-le-Monial is west of Cluny.

Fontenay is the best-preserved, nonactive Cisterian monastery. It is near Montbard, which would be 2.5 to 3 hours trip, then how to get out to Fontenay? I don't think a bus goes out there.

I also see that Chartreuse is not far away. But you can only get to the visitor's center, not the monastery itself, I think.

I met four American college girls on a day trip to Pont du Gard from their campus in Lyon. So it can be done. Plus, they didn't want to pay, so they walked all the way around and entered the site through the park (I have no clue where that entrance is). They were with me on the bus from Avignon, and got back for the same return bus, which was at about 2:30 pm.

Not sure if they did the TGV to Avignon TGV and then train to Avignon Centre, or SNCF direct from Lyon to the latter.