An Eclipse in Roman Gaul
Legend has it that Rome was founded by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, descendants of the Trojan throne, who were raised and nurtured by a she-wolf. It was with this beast-like prowess that the Roman Empire was founded. Almost 3,000 years later, all that we have left of that splendor are the ruins of their brilliant craft, which is what we sought to understand a little more. That was how we booked a quick trip with Davros Tours
to southern France where, rumor has it, lay the best preserved roman ruins. So hunting we went.
As soon as we crossed the English Channel on the crowded Ryanair airbus, the thick shroud of clouds that permanently covers the British Isles all of a sudden vanished, and revealed the luminous French land down below. We were able to see the white snow trails in a low mountain range, and Ed even pointed out a ski center as we were flying over it. After Uncle Davros recovered from the fright of a very bouncy landing, we were pleased to find that not only the sun in France really shines, but also that the jackets we had brought with us were useless here. God bless the Mediterranean.
We jumped in the brand new Clio that Davros Tours had reserved for the trip and sped our way through the French countryside towards the city of Nimes. The roads were surrounded by young vineyards where all that was visible were the small crooked trunks that looked like broken fingers trying to claw their way out of the ground.
A few rond point
later, we reached the quiet city of Nimes and cruised down its main avenue where, from a distance, we could see the mighty Les Arenes
amphitheatre. By now a few swirls of violaceous clouds covered the sky but the contrast with the amphitheatre's worn gray stone looked magnificent. The ruins were surrounded by French cafes and restaurants, old town houses, and a city square merry-go-round and all.
Inside, we learned that the amphitheatre's arena was always filled with sand so as to soak up the blood from the gladiator combats, wild animal fights, and executions. Today it is used for
concerts and bullfights, as the gifted
statue of the Matador in the entrance implied. Continuous roman arches gave the structure its transparent solidity, taking advantage of the empty spaces as access ways for the spectators. In antiquity there was a huge canvas cover called a velum
over the open cavity of the amphitheatre, sheltering the spectators from the blazing sunrays.
While Ed and Davros went hopping from stone to stone, I sat down on one of the benches, which at one time had been covered with cushions for the most illustrious Romans. I listened to my audio guide as I looked about and tried to imagine what it would have all looked like 2,000 years ago.
The people of Roman Gaul sure liked their bloody combats, they would line up since daybreak to try to get a seat and many people fought and argued over good seating. The wealthier ones got their slaves to stand in line and save their seats for them and the entire family. There were snack and drink vendors outside and inside the amphitheatre waiting for the thirsty and the hungry to come during halftime. Sounds like your average baseball game or concert, sans the fighting to the death.
We climbed to the highest level of the amphitheatre, where the slaves and women had to sit, to take a look at the stunning views of Nimes. Ed instantly fell in love with the rose and peach colored rooftops of the old houses with the occasional far away church tower or spire.
We left the amphitheatre and started driving towards Pont du Gard, the famous Roman aqueduct site. In the car a debate concerning coliseums versus amphitheatres came up. Since I was the only one present who had ever studied the subject in an academic manner, I was naturally right and they were naturally wrong, but I let them pretend they actually knew something.
When we arrived to Point du Gard, the sun was already coming down and a lovely tangerine colored light was shining on the mighty stretch of aqueduct reflecting upon the Gard River. The Pont is built on three levels: the first carries a road or passage used as a bridge and the third is the water conduit which brought water from the springs to the Roman city of Nemausus
, modern day Nimes. Uncle Davros said that in the olden days when he first came, one could enjoy a walk in the third level, where the water was supposed to run.
The light was almost all gone by the time we left Pont du Gard toward the hotel. The Formula 1 hotel we had booked for just €29 per room, according to Uncle Davros, was a dodgy hotel but Ed and I were very pleased when we saw the ship cabin-like bathrooms and shower rooms decorated with bright colors. Everything was clean and tidy and new-looking although the décor seemed more appropriate for the 1980's.
We left our stuff and got cleaned up for dinner in Avignon. As we entered the city we saw the old city walls illuminated by the low hanging moon which seemed surprisingly bright and clear. We had forgotten all about the lunar eclipse that was to take place at around 23:00. That gave us enough time to have dinner, walk around, and witness the eclipse from this beautiful city.
David desperately wanted moules frites
so we walked through the town square with its cobblestone streets in search for the perfect little French restaurant. We found a small pink-decorated eatery and we tried the delicious moules
, or mussels, cooked in white wine with a hint of cream and garlic, celery and some herbs over a brilliant red wine. I decided to stop drinking wine when I looked in the mirror and my teeth and lips were plum-colored.....actually I decided to stop when I started to trip over my words.
After dinner we walked around and found our way to the Palais des Papes
and saw that the now blue moon had also found its way right on top of it. The Gathic building that looked more like a fortress than a palace had once been the home of the Papal court which was moved from Rome. This period when the popes were dominated by the French monarchs has become known as the Babylonian Captivity, in reference to the Israelite's enslavement in biblical times.
Suddenly the lower tip of the moon started to blacken and slowly but surely the darkness began to cover it. It was a great spectacle to watch the eclipse over the gothic towers of the Avignon Papal Palace but it was a very long
one, and since it was already midnight we decided to leave our eclipse halfway and drive back to the hotel for some much needed shut-eye. Tomorrow we still had much Roman-ruin hunting to do