Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Roman Sites in France

From Pont du Gard in Occitanie to the Thermes de Cluny in Paris, the Temple of Janus in Burgundy to the Temple of Mars in Brittany. With interesting Gallo-Roman sites to visit in each region of France, the decision on where to go may be overwhelming. We have compiled a list of 25 must-see Roman sites in France. They are among the most spectacular examples of their type, the most well preserved sites, but above all they provide a good introduction to the Gallo-Roman past in France.

25 Must-See Roman Ruins & Sites in France

Arch of Germanicus

This Roman triumphal arch, built in either 18 or 19 AD, was dedicated to the emperor Tiberius and his adoptive sons Drusus Caesar and Germanicus. Originally the typical two-bay arch was built at the head of a bridge, on the terminus of the road that ran between Saintes and Lyon marking the entrance to the city. In 1843 during work on the nearby quay, the arch was to be demolished. Prosper Mérimée intervened and had it moved to its current position on Place Bassompierre.

Archaeological Crypt of the île de la Cité

Beneath the Notre Dame Cathedral are the remains of Paris’s Roman and medieval past, including the Roman port and a public bath house. Set amongst these exceptionally exhibited remains are informative displays that tell the history of this popular city, beginning with the Neolithic and Iron Age of the area, including an engaging recreation of the settlement of the Parisii, the Celtic tribe who settled in the area 2,000 years ago and from whom the city takes its name. This attraction is open.

Arena of Nimes

The amphitheatre in Nîmes is widely regarded as one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres. So well preserved is the structure that it is still used for a variety of events, although since 2009 it is in the process of being restored – a project that will last at least 25 years. It was built around 100 AD, shortly after the Colosseum in Rome, with an estimated seating capacity of 24,000. The amphitheatre was just inside the city wall, the position of which is marked in the paving surrounding the arena.

Argentomagus

Around 50 BC the Romans took over what had been an Iron Age town of the Bituriges Celtic tribe for a few centuries. The Romans named the new town Argentomagus. Today the archaeological remains can be visited at a number of locations in the town of Saint-Marcel. A museum, constructed over the remnants of a crypt from the Roman period and around which are most of the better preserved Roman features, provides the archaeological background from the Palaeolithic to the medieval.

Arles Amphitheatre

One of the major attractions in Rome, the Arènes d’Arles was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and is still used for entertainment today, as a venue for bullfighting during the Feria d’Arles in September and various musical events over summer. Although the structure is obviously Roman, it was modified during medieval times. The two towers are what remains of the amphitheatre as a fortress that up until the 18th century protected some 200 houses. These were removed in the 1820s.

Bordeaux Amphitheatre – Le Palais Gallien

A small part remains of what was once quite a large Roman amphitheatre, believed to have seated about 17,000 people. The amphitheatre was built in the 3rd century AD when Bordeaux, then known as Burdigala, was the capital of the Roman province of Aquitaine. It is thought that the amphitheatre was built to mark the visit to Aquitaine by the Emperor Lucius Septimius Bassianus. Visitors to Bordeaux will see the ruins called ‘Le Palais Gallien’, some say this is the palace Charlemagne had built for his wife Galiene.

Flavien Roman Bridge

Despite the rather unassuming setting, le Pont Flavien is said to be one of the most beautiful Roman bridges outside of Italy. Certainly it is unique in France in that it has a pair of ceremonial arches at either end, each with a pair of crouching lions on top. The bridge has suffered much since it was built, but each time it has been painstakingly reconstructed. The parapets are modern, and only one of the lions is original. But still, anyone who is fascinated by Roman engineering should not miss it. It is thought that the bridge was as much a funerary monument as it was functional.

Glanum Archaeological Site

The ancient town of Glanum started out as an Iron Age oppidum at about 500 years BC. During the 2nd century BC the town became substantially Hellenised as a result of contact with the Greeks settled in Marseilles. After the defeat of the Gauls during the 1st century BC until the 3rd century AD Glanum was an important town with numerous religious and civic monuments being constructed.

Les Antiques

Over the departmental road (D5) from Glanum archaeological site are two large Roman monuments known as Les Antiques. One is a mausoleum the other a triumphal arch. The cenotaph, is not only a unique example of Roman funerary architecture it is also very well preserved. It was built sometime between 30 and 20 BC for a wealthy Gallo-Roman family. The nearby arch was erected in 20 AD to commemorate Caesar’s conquest of various tribes of Gauls. Two striking examples of monumental Roman architecture.

Lyon Roman Theatres

Built into the side of Fourvière Hill sometime around the beginning of the Empire is a Roman theatre with one of the most breath-taking settings in France. The theatre is thought to be the oldest in Gaul, and one of the largest. Next to the theatre is a smaller theatre, or odeon. Besides these two structures, ruins of a temple complex were discovered behind the theatre, and behind the odeon is a street lined with shops. Each year during July and August the theatres host the ‘Nuits de Fourvière’.

Maison Carrée

The Maison Carrée is the only Roman temple to be so completely preserved. The Corinthian-style temple was built by Augustus, and dedicated to two of his adopted sons – Caius and Lucius. It was placed on a podium overlooking the city’s forum or public gathering place. Other architectural features of the forum can be seen today. By virtue of its size the temple would have dominated not only the forum, but also the city, reminding locals of the rule of Rome. Napoleon had the neoclassical Église de la Madeleine in Paris modelled on the Maison Carrée.

Paris Amphitheatre - Arènes de Lutèce

Although much of the amphitheatre is a recent reconstruction, it is nonetheless an important part of the Roman heritage of Paris. Constructed in the 1st century AD, and seating about 17,000 people, the amphitheatre was used for both theatrical performances as well as gladiatorial combats. The arena was destroyed by Barbarians in 280 AD, and it came to light again in 1860 during building works. A campaign to save and restore the amphitheatre was successfully lead by Victor Hugo; it was reopened as a public square in 1896.

Pont du Gard

Today Pont du Gard is a popular tourist attraction at a spot on the Gardon River favoured by locals to pass the time on a sunny day. Back in the 1st century AD the three tiered aqueduct was a critical part of a 50-kilometre long system that carried water from a spring just outside Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus, modern-day Nîmes. Roman architects created a technical masterpiece, standing over 50 m high, and 275 m long at the highest point. The lower level served as bridge well into the Middle Ages, long after the aqueduct ceased transporting water.

Porte de Mars

At 32 metres wide the Porte de Mars in Reims is one of the largest known triumphal arches in the Roman world. This was one of four, and excavations at the other sites suggest they were all just as big. The style of the arch and the iconography suggest it was built in the late 2nd century AD – the last period of grand public building projects in the early Empire. Situated on a large traffic island, the structure looks impressive from a distance. Closer inspection , however, reveals it the decoration and finer detail has not weathered well.

Puy de Dôme Mercury Temple

On the summit of a volcanic mountain, the Puy de Dôme, the Romans built a temple and dedicated it to their god Mercury. Besides the elevated Roman archaeology, the summit offers expansive views of the Chaîne des Puys – a 40 km chain of volcanic cinder cones, lava domes and maars. A Roman road is still used today to ascend the volcano by foot. There is no need to worry about the volcano, as its last eruption is thought to have been in about 5760 BC.

Roman Bath House – Les Thermes Antiques de Cluny

The Thermes de Cluny are the relatively well preserved ruins of what was a massive public bathhouse constructed by the Romans during the 3rd century AD. Given that the ancient buildings have been in constant use since the Middle Ages the preservation of these ruins is quite remarkable. In fact they are amongst the most substantial surviving Roman remains in all of northern Europe. A number of architectural elements typical of Roman bathhouses are still intact, including the frigidarium (cold water baths), the caldarium (hot water room), the tepidarium (warm water room) and the gymnasium. The bath house is part of the Cluny Museum, and some of the halls are used to display Roman and prehistoric artefacts. Parts of the bath house can be viewed from the street.

Roman Bavay - Bagacum

The Roman city of Bagacum was an important junction of seven major roads that linked northern France to Germania, southern and western France. One of these went to present-day Boulogne-sur-Mer, from where boats set sail for Britain. The ruins of a 2.5 hectare forum, that is relatively well preserved, make this the largest surviving Roman Forum in France. From the end of the 3rd century and through the 4th century the forum was heavily fortified with thick walls and turrets. These ramparts can still be seen today.

Roman Theatre of Orange

The Roman theatre in the town of Orange is the best preserved such ancient theatre in Europe, and because of this it has been placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Standing at the top of the cavea, looking down onto the stage and the stage building, is a wonderful experience for all those who enjoy Roman archaeology. Built in the reign of Emperor Augustus during the first century A.D, and with a seating capacity of up to 10,000, the theatre was the scene of great shows in Roman times and it still attracts visitors to musical events today.

Roman Vaison-la-Romaine - Vasio Julia Vocontiorum

There are more Roman remains exposed in Vaison-la-Romaine than anywhere else in France.  Not unproblematically, much of the town was excavated in the first half of the 1900s. For the visitor today there are two areas to explore: one is free, the other, including a museum, not. The earliest Roman buildings date to 50-30 BC, and by the 2nd century AD it was one of the richest cities in the province. The town recovered from Barbarian attacks of 280 AD, and became an important religious centre. A day will allow you to cover most if not all of Vaison comfortably.

Temple of Augustus and Livia

Situated in a small square in the small town of Vienne, a different setting to the dominant position in the centre of a Roman Forum of Colonia Julia Viennensium. Like many such Roman temples in Europe, the reason this one has survived so remarkably well is because it was transformed into a church. From the imprint of the inscription it has been possible to work out that the temple was dedicated to the Imperial Cult in Rome, one of the first in Gaul. The temple sits on a typically Roman podium, over 2 m high. The temple is not open to the public, but can be seen at anytime.

Temple of Janus, Autun

Beyond the walls to the north west of the ancient city is the best known example of a Romano-Celtic fanum: a temple typical to Roman Gaul. Here a central, square chamber, or cella, is surrounded by roofed galleries. This structure would have stood at the centre of a sanctuary, roughly the extent size of the present-day enclosure. Only two of the cella’s walls have survived, albeit to a height of 24 m. Although known as the Temple of Janus, this is a 16th century label for which there is no evidence, the divinity worshipped here is unknown to us.

Temple of Mars, Corseul

The most striking feature of the sanctuary complex on the edge of Corseul are the surviving walls of an octagonal cella. Today they are just over 10 m high, but it is thought that they rose to a height of 22 m. Although no inscriptions or statues provide the name of the deity worshipped here, clues suggest it was Mars. Besides the cella, the foundations of other parts of the sanctuary, including side porticos and vestibules, are visible. Visually, this is one of the most impressive Roman monuments in Brittany.

Triumphal Arch of Orange

This exceptionally well preserved Triumphal Arch was built on the Via Agrippa during Augustus’ reign (27 BC to 14 AD). Initially to honor the veterans of the Gallic Wars, Tiberius had it modified to honour Germanicus and his victories over Germanic tribes in the Rhineland. During the medieval period it was part of the town’s wall for defensive purposes. Recently it was restored and is now the centre piece of a landscaped traffic circle.

Vesunna – Roman Périgueux

The Roman city of Vesunna, modern day Périgueux, is the best understood Gallo-Roman city in the Aquitaine region, and the presentation of the Roman period in the museum should not be missed if Gallo-Roman archaeology is your passion. The city was founded in about 16 BC and by the end of the 3rd century AD it was a large, walled city, with the usual features of a Roman city – including a temple and an amphitheatre both still visible today. By 418 AD the city was invaded by Visigoths.

Via Domitia, Narbonne

In the centre of Narbonne’s town square is a cleverly exposed section of Roman road. This was the Via Domitia, the first Roman road to have been built in Gaul and it enabled the movement of soldiers and traders between Italy and Spain. The town of Narbo Martius was established here in 118 BC, taking advantage of the junction between the Via Aquitania and the Via Domitia, as well as the potential then for a port. It was a successful colony and later became the capital of Gallia Narbonensis.