On our drive back from the lavender festival at Ferrassières, in order to avoid the tough city driving through Avignon, we forced our GPS to route us through Orange. We hadn’t yet visited Orange, which is famous for its Roman theater and triumphal arch. (We knew about these antiquities thanks to our dear friend Elise’s recommendation of the fine The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France, by Ina Caro.) We were just thinking about how to make the journey less stressful. Once we arrived in Orange and were following GPS’s street-by-street instructions through the center of town, it dawned on us that the arch must be around here somewhere. Quick check on the phone and we realized that it was just around the corner. One turn later and there it was, centered on our avenue, shining in the hot afternoon sun. Spontaneous tourist moment!
We are so glad that we stopped. The arch is glorious. The city has created a new clear round-about, with tidy paving and great vantages. We slowly strolled around and under the arch, seeking shadows from the intense sun, listening to cicadas, and marveling at this 2000-year-old monument!
We learned that the arch was probably built during the reign of Augustus, sometime between 27 BC and 14 AD. It was built on the former Via Agrippa to honor the veterans of the Gallic Wars and Legio II Augusta. It was later reconstructed by emperor Tiberius to celebrate the victories of Germanicus over the German tribes in Rhineland.
There is a vestige of an inscription that once was affixed to the architrave. Gold-coated bronze letters probably spelled out:
TI • CAESAR • DIVI • AVGVSTI • F • DIVI • IVLI • NEPOTI • AVGVSTO • PONTIFICI • MAXIPOTESTATE • XXVIII • IMPERATORI • IIX • COS • IIII • RESTITVIT • R • P • COLONIAE (or RESTITVTORI • COLONIAE)
Ti(berio) Caesar(i), divi Augusti f(ilio), divi Iuli nepoti, Augusto, Pontifici Maximo, [Tribunicia]Potestate XXVIII Imperatori IIX Co(n)s(uli) IIII restituit R(es) P(ublica) coloniae (or : restitutori coloniae)
To Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, grandson of the divine Iulius, Augustus, pontifex maximus, exercising tribunician power for the twenty eighth time, imperator for the eighth time, consul for the fourth time, given back to him by the administration of the colony (or refounder of the colony).
The arch is decorated with various reliefs of military themes, including naval battles, spoils of war and Romans battling Germanics and Gauls. A Roman foot soldier carrying the shield of Legio II Augusta can be seen on the north front battle relief.
Standing and pondering this impressive fragment of antiquity, we wondered what it had looked like when it was built and how it could have managed to last this long. A bit of internet research later…
We found a few artistic reconstructions, including one on the information board near the arch. We don’t know which of these are founded in modern archeological rigor, and which are romantic imaginings.
During the Middle Ages, the town’s walls appropriated the arch to be the control point for the northern entry of the town. These drawings date from about 1640.
In 1721, the Arc was in ruins, and part of the western facade of the Arc had collapsed. The local Prince directed the residents of Orange to repair the arch, including demolition of the house built on the arch, opening of the arches, restoration of the collapsed corner, removal of the surrounding walls, filling of the ditches, and flattening of the slope which served as support.
During the romantic movement, ruins and their evocations were the rage. One could ponder the awe-inspiring passage of millennia and the inevitable ravages of time.
In 1824, A. Caristie, an architect, undertook a first restoration by removing the piers and other elements that had been added in the Middle Ages. The west side was almost entirely rebuilt based on sketches of the old sculptures.
In 2009, the arch was thoroughly cleaned. The Arc de Triomphe regained all its splendor!
Sources: Wikipedia; Judaism and Rome