Vaison la Romaine

Michele Hanrath (September 2006)

Vaison la Romaine, a prosperous town since Roman times, is situated in the Vaucluse. The modern section of town has been built over the ancient Roman one. This only being discovered in 1907, the surrounding areas have been excavated revealing large parts of the ancient Roman suburbs.

To reach the old medieval town, which is a charming maze of gray cobblestone streets which snake up to the top of the hill where the ruins of the chateau of Contes de Toulouse still stands, one crosses the Pont Romaine. This is the one true Roman vestige which mysteriously has remained intact despite floods and wars. In 1616 the river Ouvèze flooded and brought down the parapets which were reconstructed in ordinary stone. In 1842 these parapets were restored in a style having no rapport with the original Roman structures. Then in 1944 the German army tried to bomb the bridge but only the paving stones of the road were destroyed. But the most devastating onslaught that the bridge has survived and the one freshest in the memory of the citizens of Vaison la Romaine was the flood of 1992.

As most mountainous rivers, the Ouvèze has seasonal swells but in September 1992 these torrential waters were combined with a large mudslide which made the river mount 56 feet, tearing off the parapet and neighbouring abutting houses, costing the lives of 43 people and destroying 150 houses. It is indeed miraculous that this bridge remains standing. The bridge is very solidly anchored into the cliffs of rock and built further with enormous stones using a dry mason technique. This light and simple arch or “dos d’ane” now with its reconstructed parapet still stands as it was originally built, proof of great engineering skills dating back to the 1st or 2nd century A.D.

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