Reims (Durocortorum)

The history of Reims begins with the very people from whom the modern city is named: the Remi – the only tribe in Gaul to have consistently supported Caesar throughout the Gallic Wars and therefore to have gained great advantage and favour from Rome after the wars. Succeeding the Gallic oppidum of Durocorteron, Reims was a tribal civitas which thrived for centuries, enduring destruction by both Vandals and Huns in the 5th century and remaining important and strong enough that it was of vital importance to a millenium or more of royalty in the land.

Though it is now a sprawling city full of baroque, 19th and 20th century architecture, known mostly for its champagne houses, there are still two fragments of Roman Durocortorum to be found, and they are pretty impressive ones, too. One is a cryptoporticus that seems to have formed part of the forum and which may have been used to store grain. This is an impressive site in the rather appropriately named Place de Forum. When we visited it was not open the the public, since it is only open during the summer months, though it is free when open. In addition to this site, in the parkland at the northern end of the old town stands the remains of a triumphal arch known as the Porte de Mars, after a temple that once stood in the vicinity. This is an exceptionally well-preserved triple gated arch with a great deal of intricate stonework, and is one of the premier sites in north/central France.

Reims is a pleasant city for a short stay, though a little busy for me for longer. But it is well worth a visit just to see its two Roman survivals.

Remains: 3/5    Atmosphere: 3/5   Access: 5/5    Overall: 3/5

Malain (Mediolanum)

In the wilderness, just off a crossroads in the countryside in Burgundy, stands a little visited Roman site, open to all at all times and generally untended. Mediolanum, near the modern village of Malain, was founded in 70 AD in the lands of the Aedui (see Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars for more infor on THAT tribe.) The town grew to become a sizeable trade centre, importing wine from far afield as attested by amphorae from the site, via navigable rivers connected to the Saone and therefore the Mediterranean.

The site covers a reasonable area, but only a portion of it has been consolidated and is truly visitable. That consists mainly of a long street with workshops, stores and houses leading off both sides. You can drop down the hill a little and visit the rear of some buildings. The main area is preserved beneath a shelter and is really very interesting and well-conserved. Between there and the road some buildings and streets are discernable within the grass, too, and at the end of the site are overgrown walls and ruins.

There are no grand public buildings here, but as a small commercial site it is still of surprising interest. There is something peaceful about wandering around the site in such a peaceful, unspoilt rural area, and you would be very unlucky if you didn’t have the site to yourself.

Remains: 2/5    Atmosphere: 4/5   Access: 3/5    Overall: 3/5

Les Fontaines Salées

The Fontaines Salées (Salt fountains) is the site of natural salt springs that have been utilised since the neolithic era. In the days of the pre-Roman Gallic tribes the site was expanded to become a sacred area with numerous wells and a circular sanctuary surrounding them for the healing of the sick. The central, main, well at the heart of that circular sanctuary still produces effervescent water, loaded with argon.

In the Roman era, the site was vastly expanded again to include a massive thermal bath complex, which was further altered in the 2nd century to include separate facilities for men and women and a large palaestra or exercise compound, attached to the main Celtic spring sanctuary. This still contains traces of underfloor heating and is well preserved. The Roman complex also included a second sanctuary located to the west of the original circular enclosure.

Following the site’s destruction during the 3rd century invasion of the Alemanni, the site was used as a centre of salt refining. The site once more became a healing centre in the 4th century, and new buildings date from that period. This new site remained in use until the Carolingian era, when it became a private villa.

From the Burgundian (glorious) city of Vezelay, pass southeast through the lovely village of Saint-Pere (which has a museum containing some items from the site) and follow the D598 for less than a mile and look for a sign that leads off down a track through the fields to the left.

The site is in the idyllic French countryside and could not be more picturesque. It is a fabulous place for a picnic and a small kiosk asks for only a modest entry fee. Even at the height of summer it was far from busy, with perhaps four lots of visitors. The remains are well kept and well-presented and quite extensive. Simply, it is a perfect half-day out in the area, and will please most people, let alone the die-hard Roman fans.

Remains: 3/5    Atmosphere: 5/5   Access: 4/5    Overall: 4/5