English language guidebooks to the archaeology of France are quite thin on the ground. I am a bit surprised by this given the sheer number of English speaking tourists that visit France each year, many of which do come to see the rich and fascinating archaeological heritage. This is partly what led me to create Archaeology Travel. Despite not having every site and museum open to the public in any region listed, our website is a solid and reliable archaeological travel guide, not a comprehensive account of the archaeology in any region.
Archaeology Travel aspires to being the first point of call on the internet for people planning a visit to a particular region and wanting to know exactly what archaeology is accessible in that region. For anyone looking for information about visiting the spectacular Roman monuments in the south of France, our coverage of the Roman period in the south of France is I believe very good. Take for example the city of Fréjus, I am confident our entry for this Roman port, and the various surviving features scattered about the modern city, is not only the most comprehensive guide online it is also the most accurate. With our ‘points of interest’ feature we have exactly pin-pointed all the known Roman remains in Fréjus.
If you then want a light, accessible but accurate book to the Roman archaeology of this region, I recommend Edwin Mullins’ Roman Provence: a History and Guide. This is a wonderful readable account of the abundant Roman archaeology here. But we are fortunate in that for this area there is also a more extensive guide to the Roman archaeology.
The Roman Remains of France by James Bromwich
James Bromwich has produced two specialist guides to the Roman archaeology of France. These are divided geographically, the first, published in 1993, is The Roman Remains of Southern France. The second guidebook, which was published in 2003, is The Roman Remains of Northern and Eastern France. We can but hope that a third volume is being prepared covering the Roman archaeology of western France – a region for which there is currently no English guidebook. These are both substantial and comprehensive volumes, indispensable for anyone visiting these regions of France who has a particular and specialist interest in the Roman period.
Despite being guides with practical visitor information they also provide a readable in-depth account of the Roman period. But these are not stuffy, dry academic tomes. They not only include major archaeological sites and the lessor known sites, but more popular museums and archaeological theme parks have also been added with thoughtful accounts. The guides are richly illustrated, with both black and white photographs and line diagrams that show in plan the layout of a modern town overlaying a Roman town and where the remnants of that era are still visible.
As I said before, these are substantial volumes, the guide covering southern France is 368 pages while the other is 460 pages. They are reasonably priced. But they are for travellers with a more serious and sustained interest in the Roman Empire. For instance, regional tourist guides will only include mention of the main sites, or those sites that are easily visited. The Lyonnais aqueducts are a good example, James Bromwich provides extensive details of the known remains of the four aqueducts that fed the Roman city of Lyon in over 12 pages.
Included for each site and museum are very good directions and other access information, even the URLs for websites in the later volume where these exist. As Bromwich cautions in his introductory notes, despite including opening times these should not be blindly relied upon, so should be checked in advance. But as anyone travelling in remote areas will attest, even posted opening hours are not always reliable.
Different people seek to engage with the archaeology of a given area at different levels. For those who enjoy visiting France and seeing the Roman remains in the north, east and south, and wanting to go off the beaten track to see more than just the spectacular amphitheatres and monuments in the big cities and who require a greater understanding of the Roman period of this country, these two books will be indispensable guides. I can thoroughly recommend them both, even if you just enjoy reading about the Roman Empire.