Ancient Roman Amphitheatres in France

9 of the Best Ancient Amphitheatres in France

History Hit

24 Nov 2020

When it comes to ancient roman stadia in France there are a number of fascinating places that are waiting to be explored, including the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls, Arles Amphitheatre and Arenes de Lutece. There are other fabulous French amphitheatres including Nimes Arena, Bordeaux Amphitheatre and Nimes Arena, which is one of the best known French ancient amphitheatres. Here are the best places to see and explore while exploring roman stadia in France.

What are the best Roman Amphitheatres in France?

1. Arles Amphitheatre

Arles Amphitheatre is a brilliantly preserved Roman site in France which was built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The amphitheatre could hold over 20,000 people and survived exceptionally well through the ages. This UNESCO listed Roman-built sports arena is still in use today. One of the best Roman sites in France. Its excellent state of preservation means that it is even still used today, not for chariot races, but for bullfighting. This excellent state of conservation is in spite the fact that it was used as a medieval fortification. Arles Amphitheatre is now one of the town’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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2. Nimes Arena

Possibly the best preserved Roman stadium in the world, Nimes Arena survived due to its adaptation over the centuries, being used as a fortress and village before its eventual restoration. Built during the reign of Augustus, Nimes is a marvel of Roman engineering. A vast oval with a stunning façade resplendent with archways and ornamentation, the arena could seat up to 24,000 people. Now fully restored, Nimes is a popular tourist attraction and allows people to experience what it would have been like for Roman spectators. Including an interactive audio guide and some detailed exhibits, the site is now a fitting museum of its past.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia / CC

3. Arènes de Fréjus

Arènes de Fréjus is a 12,000-capacity Roman amphitheatre located in Fréjus, France. The structure was built in the 1st century. In recent times the arena has been used for major rock concerts.

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4. Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls

The Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls, translated as “Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules”, was an early first century amphitheatre in Lyon. Lyon was once the Roman city of Lugdunum. Whilst the city was founded in approximately 44 BC, the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls is thought to have been constructed in around 19 AD. The reference to the “Three Gauls” relates to Gaul’s main three provinces at the time, Belgica, Aquitania and Lugdunensis, and of which Lugdunum was the capital. Only a fraction of the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls remains, the rest seemingly swallowed up by modern roads and buildings which surround it. What does remain includes a section of its walls, its northern gate and some of its foundations.

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5. Arenes de Lutece

Arenes de Lutece or “Lutetia Arena” in Paris is one of the most important and rare remnants of the Gallo-Roman settlement of Lutetia. Originally built in the first to second century AD, Arenes de Lutece was a vast amphitheatre able to seat between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators. In 280 AD, Arenes de Lutece was sacked, leaving few remains. Rediscovered during building works carried out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Arenes de Lutece was subject to a great deal of renovation, sadly to the extent that much of what can be seen today – such as the tiered seating – is not original. Today, Arenes de Lutece is more likely to be the site of skateboarding competitions and picnics rather than gladiator matches.

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6. Bordeaux Amphitheatre

Nestled amongst charming French boulevards and cobbled streets is Bordeaux Amphitheatre, also known as Palais Gallien; all that remains of the once vibrant Roman city of Burdigala. Put under state protection in 1911, Bordeaux’s citizens are now working to preserve this ancient amphitheatre, a snippet of a history long since vanished; it remains as an impressive reminder of the Roman presence which once dominated the area. Set in the heart of Bordeaux, destroyed by a fire during the Germanic invasions of the town, the impressive remains of the Palais Gallien are well worth the visit.

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Image Credit: CC / MOSSOT

7. Cahors Roman Amphitheatre

The remains of an oval amphitheatre were revealed when the underground car park was excavated at the Place Gambetta, just west of, and partially beneath, Boulevard Gambetta in the city centre. The stone walls can be seen in the car park first level, below the statue of Leon Gambetta, and opened to the public in April 2009.

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Image Credit: Joël Thibault / CC

8. Tours Amphitheatre

The Tours amphitheater is a Roman amphitheatre located in the historic city centre of Tours, France, immediately behind the well known Tours cathedral. It was built in the 1st century when the city was called Caesarodunum. It was built atop a small hill on the outskirts of the ancient urban area, making it safe from floods, convenient for crowds and visitors, and demonstrating the power of the city from a distance. Spectators likely sat directly on the grassy slopes, while the masonry was primarily used for the vomitoria and retaining walls. Today, Rue du Général-Meusnier follows the curve of the amphitheater, from the northwest part to the southeast. The rue Racine and the rue de la Bazoche form a tangential straight line at the north-west and north-east points of the monument’s perimeter.

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