History

Discover the history of the region

Triumphal Arch in Orange, France

The Triumphal Arch in Orange (near Avignon) is about 22 meters high and 21 metres wide, and consists of three arches.

It is located on the ancient Via Agrippa (the Roman trade route from Lyon to Arles) and features numerous ornate carvings relating to the history of the conquests of Augustus, the Roman supremacy over the Gauls and various religious symbols.

In the nineteenth century it was called the Arch of Marius because it was assumed that it was erected in honour of the Marius victory against the Cimbri and the Teutons in 101 B.C., but today it is accepted that the arch was a dedication to the victory of Augustus at Actium (31 B.C.), and later also to the Emperor Tiberius.

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Following Charlemagne’s army in Agen

We've looked before at some of the bastide towns (medieval 'new towns') in the north of the Lot-et-Garonne department of southern France. This time we head to the south of the same department, and across the border into the Tarn et Garonne department.

The "Pays Agenais" as it is known is the region around the town of Agen and features numerous villages and small towns, many of them bastide towns, of historical interest.

The central open squares are intact, often with arcaded buildings around the edges that provided shelter to market traders 500 years ago.

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Fortified villages – Larressingle

Most Francophiles have heard of Carcassonne, the incredible fortified city in Languedoc-Roussillon. Incredible for two reasons – the size and quality of the medieval fortifications, and the knowledge that in the 19th century it was scheduled for demolition, and was only saved at the last minute by the newly appointed ‘Inspector of Historic Monuments’.

But head to the west, and in Gascony (now Gers) you will find a ‘baby version’ of Carcassonne which is also a fascinating place to visit.

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Piled up houses

In centuries gone by, like across much of Europe, France had large areas that were covered with dense woods and forests.

Although France still has a great deal of forest (increasing each year, as agricultural land in inhospitable regions gets abandoned), there are also many areas that we now see as open farmland that were once forested.

About 500-700 years ago, the Lot-et-Garonne region of southern France was well covered in trees, including oak and mixed woodlands. So the first building material that came to mind when building somewhere to live was, naturally, wood.

For a short period of time towards the end of the ‘dark ages’ – perhaps lasting as little as 10 years – a new ‘architectural style’ came into being in the region.

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Prehistoric France

France has more than its fair share of prehistoric monuments – although in truth it is the north around Carnac (Brittany) that has the greatest concentration of menhirs and dolmen.

But the south has its occasional treasures as well. in addition to the sprinkling of standing stones found in many parts of France there are a few specific highlights:

Lascaux caves and the Vezere valley

The Vezere River runs through the Dordogne department to meet the Dordogne River. The Vezere valley has been occupied since prehistoric times, and has one of the greatest concentrations of cave paintings in the world – typically dating back15,000 years.

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