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Bucket List: 5 Amazing Architectural Sites in Southern France

Updated on May 20, 2015

Provence

According to Wikipedia, Provence is, "a geographical region and historical province of southeastern France, which extends from the left bank of the lower Rhône River on the west to the Italian border on the east, and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the south."

Summer in the south

My wife and I had the privilege of spending a summer in the south of France a few years ago. We were very fortunate to be able to tour around and see some amazing architectural sites throughout the Provence region.

These are 5 places that I would consider Bucket List sites for anyone who is planning a trip to the south of France. Out of all of these, I had only ever heard of one, Avignon, because of a song I learned in high school French class (sur le pont, d'Avignon...). The south of France is full of beautiful places, but these are my 5 favorite architectural sites.

Les Baux de Provence

Situated in the Chaine des Alpilles (a range of low mountains), this fortress city dates back to the Middle Ages. The earliest evidence of human habitation dates back 6,000 years.

The village is situated on a rocky plateau and from it you can look out over the surrounding valley.

Parts of the city are in good shape, but a good portion of it is in ruins. Although it is a very touristy location, it is still spectacular and certainly worth the trip.

Me beside a trebuchet at Les Baux de Provence
Me beside a trebuchet at Les Baux de Provence | Source

Meaning of 'Les Baux'

The name 'Les Baux' comes the Provençal word bauç which means 'rocky spur'. The village has also lent its name to bauxite (aluminum) which was first discovered nearby in 1821.

The Arena of Nîmes

People make a big deal about the Colosseum in Rome, but in so many ways, the 'Arene de Nîmes' is way better. This structure is complete, with no large gaps like the one in Rome.

Originally constructed in 70 AD (CE), this Roman amphitheatre has been modified over the millennia.


Nîmes Arena exterior
Nîmes Arena exterior | Source
La Maison Carree
La Maison Carree | Source

When in Nîmes...

While you're in Nîmes, check out la Maison Carrée, one of the best preserved Roman temples in all of the Empire. It was originally built in 16 BC (BCE)!

Did you know...?

The city of Nîmes lends its name to one of the most popular fabrics in the world. The word comes from the French phrase serge de Nîmes, the type of fabric we now call denim.

My wife and I inside the Arena
My wife and I inside the Arena | Source

Pont Du Gard

Built sometime in the early 1st century, this aqueduct bridge is one the most amazing things I have ever seen.

It spans the Gardon River, from which it gets its name, and is part of the 50 km long (31 mi) Nîmes aqueduct which the Romans built to transport water from a spring at Uzès to Nîmes. With three tiers of arches, Pont du Gard is 48.8 m (160 ft) high and is 274 m (899 ft) long.

It is a marvel of ancient engineering and puts most modern architecture to shame, if no other reason because it is still standing 2,000 years later.


Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard | Source

Romans in France

From Wikipedia: "The Romans made the region into the first Roman province beyond the Alps and called it Provincia Romana, which evolved into the present name.

It was ruled by the Counts of Provence from their capital in Aix-en-Provence until 1481, when it became a province of the Kings of France.

While it has been part of France for more than five hundred years, it still retains a distinct cultural and linguistic identity, particularly in the interior of the region."

Avignon

The Papal Palace, the partial Pont d'Avignon (the Avignon Bridge, properly known as the Pont Saint-Bénézet), and the Old City are the big draws here.

The walled Old City is still a thriving place, not just for tourists, but also for the 12,000 residents who call it home. There are more than enough points of interest to keep you busy for a few days.

The Papal Palace and city walls
The Papal Palace and city walls | Source

The Avignon Papacy

7 successive popes resided in Avignon between 1309 and 1377. Pope Clement VI bought the town from Joanna I of Naples in 1348 and the city was under Papal control until 1791. During this period of revolution, it became part of France.

Le Vieux Port (Old Harbor), Marseille

This is a heavy tourist area, especially in summer, but it is also gorgeous and charming. There are lots of cafes and restaurants and tourist shops around the port where you can sit and enjoy the picturesque views.

From the port you can see the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde which overlooks the harbor. The basilica is just up the hill and can be easily visited from the old port.

View of Notre Dame de la Garde from Le Vieux Port
View of Notre Dame de la Garde from Le Vieux Port | Source
Our Lady the Protector/ La Bonne Mere
Our Lady the Protector/ La Bonne Mere | Source

Notre Dame de la Garde

Notre Dame de la Garde translates roughly to 'Our Lady the Protector'. It is sometimes referred to locally as 'La Bonne Mere' or the Good Mother. The basilica overlooks Marseille's Old port.

It was built on the foundations of an ancient fort by French architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu. Situated on Marseille's highest natural elevation (149 m/ 490 ft) is is on the Old Port's south side. It is an important landmark and is also the site of a popular annual Assumption Day (August 15) pilgrimage.

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    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 2 years ago from Kent, UK

      This brings back some lovely memories! I would have had a slightly different list because, even though my daughter in law comes from there, I've never been to Marseille.