Friday, April 5, 2013

Roman Cities - a rumination which might be pretty boring but it's my blog. You can skip if you want.

Arles felt very familiar to me, and I quickly figured out the layout.  It reminded me of Toulouse and I thought a lot about that.  I think it's because they were Roman cities and had similar layouts that dated way back to the Romans.  Of course, Toulouse no longer has the big Roman structures it once had, but the pattern of the town is similar.  The Town Square - Le Capitole - dominated by the Hôtel de Ville -  is a remnant in spirit, at least,  of the Roman Forum, as in Arles.  In both places here are big straight wide streets leading through the town- many of them now pedestrianized, and with small warrens of medieval streets filling in between them.  These bigger streets are pretty much where they were in Roman times, leading to and from the gates of the town in the cardinal directions.  Both places have a major river running through them, with the older part of town on one side of the river.  And then seeing the necropolis - I'd never seen them, only read about them - followed by the cemetery and realizing how similar they are really, made me think again of the Romans.   (Also the Monty Python sketch - what did the Romans ever do for us)(but that's beside the point).

Sister Rose says a Classics professor she once had said that the best time to be alive in the world was to be in Roman France in the 2 or 3 century.  It was peaceful, prosperous, and full of activity.  The French  really took to Roman occupation.  When the Roman Empire died out,  France continued growing in the same directions the Roman's had started.   Many of the things we think of as typically French came from the Romans - wine and cheese and olive oil and maybe cemeteries and town plans. And, in the South of France, at least, there is a sense that the spirit of Roman life somehow survives.

Britain was different. The Britons had never really adopted the Roman way of life.  Britons continued to fight throughout the Roman occupation.  When the Romans withdrew quite abruptly at the end of the 4th century, leaving chaos and tribal warfare behind them, the 'Spirit of Rome' did not linger.   While Britain once had amphitheatres and theatres and beautiful Roman villas and baths and necropoli etc., basically only Hadrian's wall survives intact.  The stones were 'quarried' for other uses.  There are still some Roman roads that are part of the highway system.  There are some place names - Leicester, London, Colchester etc.  - the bottoms of some fortified walls, like the ones at Pevensey Castle (iirc).  And in Bath, at least some part of the baths are or were Roman.  But not like France.

After the Romans, until the Norman conquest, Britain was basically a series of tribal wars.  That 600 years is pretty interesting and contributed more to the present life of Britain than, I think, the Romans did. But that's a discussion for another day.


Kate said...

I suppose the Roman occupation of Briton was harder for the Romans. They were that much farther from home plus the weather was miserable. The Celts could see how sophisticated the Romans were so they were eager to imitate them. But for the Britons, the Romans were just a conquering army.

The Bride said...

Yes, France was just an extension of Rome, up the coast by boat. And Arles, in fact, the whole area around Marseilles, had been settled by the Greeks before the Romans, so there was probably a more similar culture to begin with and the contact was much longer.

Britain had the Britons, not a single tribe but many warring tribes who didn't like the Romans any better than the other tribes.