Fréjus is a remarkable town in Provence, southern France. Or should I say in Gallia Narbonensis? For its small size, it is steeped in history, dating back to a Roman colony founded by one of Julius Caesar’s lieutenants (the Roman name of Forum Julii stands for Julius’ market and owes its name to its strategic economic position between Marseille and Antibes, both important trading posts). Of the old Roman town, many landmarks still stand, albeit more or less ruined, among which are the amphitheater and the arena.
Today me and my dad drove to the historical town for an avant goût of its treasures. Since we’ll be here for a whole week, we only slalomed through the narrow streets of medieval Fréjus only to reach the cathedral square on a scorching midday sun. Once inside the cathedral, our attention was seized by the astonishing fifth century baptistery that places Fréjus among Gaul’s important paleochristian centres. Indeed, the episcopal city is mentioned back in 374 AD but the original building was erected in the first half of the fifth century AD by Saint Leontius (419-488), whose name the present cathedral still bears.
Another jewell of the groupe épiscopal are the cathedral cloisters. One remarkable thing about this site is that it differs from the monastic cloisters that since the Benedictines became a permanence of architectural monasticism. Whereas the abbey cloisters were a space given to the exercise of contemplation and monastic tranquility, these cloisters had much of a secular twist. The charpente was redone in the middle of the 14th century and provided with paintings of a very worldly nature. One can now see figurative painted panels featuring animals (a whole bestiary is thereby represented), knights, lay patrons, secular activities and a whole deployment of singular imagination. In the middle of this portique, the well seems as old as the complex itself although I haven’t been able to find anything on it.
We left the building and made for the arena where a group of various re-enactors were rehearsing for the evening show. As I’ve been told, there was to be un spectacle de lumière et d’animation. Among this group of clumsy enthusiasts, I could spot the LEGIO VI FERRATA, which was an awkward sight since we all know that this legion was stationed in Judaea, too far away from Fréjus to have come visit the veterans of the LEGIO VIII AUGUSTA which had been the wiser choice for an amateur historical demonstration.
The next étape carried us through a roundabout where one could catch a pretty nice glimpse of the aqueduct ruins. Water was being channeled from 50km away where two springs were being diverted into the aqueducts at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level, something which carries with it the unmistakable Roman trademark. The upper part of the aqueduct has now gone but the massive pillars are still there, in plain sight. Driver would not frown upon my dad for slowing down and going twice around the roundabout for me to have the benefit of a clear line of sight.
We ended up yearning for more. Besides, we haven’t seen the arena. In a future post, perhaps.