The Romans ruled what is now France for more than 500 years. As a result, there’s a host of Roman sites to visit across the country, including amphitheatres, which were used for gladiator combats, chariot races, animal slaying, and executions. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
9. Roman Amphitheatre – Saintes
The Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes is a 1st century AD construction built around 40AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Saintes was then known as Mediolanum Santonum and was a thriving Roman settlement in modern day France which was founded around 20BC. The amphitheatre itself would have had space for several thousand spectators and would have been the venue for ancient Roman games. Accommodating from 12 to 15,000 spectators attend sometimes bloody and violent shows, it was made by taking advantage of the site of the relief. The tiers are based on the slopes of a valley side and is on an embankment in the west.
Although used as a quarry in the Middle Ages, the amphitheater is one of the best preserved of the ancient Roman province. The arena, foundations and some steps have been cleared and partly restored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These remains give a fairly accurate picture of what was the vast edifice in antiquity.