Arènes de Fréjus - History and Facts | History Hit

Arènes de Fréjus

Frejus, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France

Image Credit: Wikimedia / CC

About Arènes de Fréjus

Arènes de Fréjus is a 5,000-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, hosting artists such as David Bowie, Queen, Iron Maiden, Rod Stewart, and Tina Turner.

History of Arènes de Fréjus

In 1840, following a request of the Inspector General of Historical Monuments, the first ever list of France’s monuments was drawn up. The Amphitheatre of Frejus was one of them, and out of the thirty referenced, is one of the oldest monuments in Gaul. The Amphitheatre was partly excavated in 1828, and was completely cleared in 1960 after the Malpasset Dam Collapse Disaster. 

It is difficult to date the monument. It was certainly built after Rome’s Colosseum (AD 80) because of some general criteria, such as the structure, design of the facade, stamped bricks. As a result, it is generally agreed that the structure dates from the end of the 1st century AD.

Compared to the 5,000-strong-capacity today, in its prime the Amphitheatre would have been able to hold 12,000 spectators. The shows that took place there were gladiatorial combats, hunting, fights between gladiators and animals, as well as ‘naumachines’ which depicted naval battles. 

The Amphitheatre was unfortunately used as a stone quarry and even a landfill before restorations began to take place. In recent times, a conservation and enhancement project has been embarked upon, restoring the Amphitheatre to its primary function as a place of spectacle.  

Arènes de Fréjus today

Victor Hugo wrote of the ruins during his visit in 1839 – ‘I was in the same square where 2,000 years ago the lions, the gladiators, and the tigers twisted [around each other]. There is now a tall grass growing there, which a herd of thin horses grazed peacefully around me…’

Visitors today should expect to see quite a different sight to the one that Hugo describes here; instead, the structure has undergone a significant amount of restoration work. As a result, the Amphitheatre is not so much a well-preserved Roman Ruin but a testament to architecture which balances both design and function, having prioritised redesignating the site as a place for performance and spectacle. 

Tourists can admire the walls, with both the first and the second floors accessible via a staircase. You can travel through history by visiting an old gallery on the ground floor, or take a break at the cavea, a specially designed public square where you can witness events today. The most special feature is the tribune in the heart of the Amphitheatre, which was formally reserved for great personalities of the time and high-ranking figures. 

Getting to Arènes de Fréjus

Arènes de Fréjus is a 49 minute drive from Saint-Tropez, primarily along the main D559 road. Avid cyclists can also enjoy a bike ride to the Amphitheatre along Saint-Tropez’s stunning coastline which will take just under two hours. The Amphitheatre is open regularly though is shut on Sundays, Mondays, and bank holidays.

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