I love little old French towns, the ones that have the feeling that they’ve been inhabited forever. And I love ruins, as the ghostly reminder of another town that once was inhabited but no longer so. When we were in Provence, around the time the Kid turned 3, I read of a town on the valley of Mount Ventoux called Vaison-la-Romaine; a lovely little old French town with a Roman ruin nestled among its stone paved narrow streets, existing side-by-side. On the very first dry day of our stay (it was raining quite a lot that spring), we headed out searching for it.
We stayed in the Vaucluse region of Provence, around a village called Cavaillon. We drove pass Mount Luberon, and then Mount Ventoux, to find Vaison-la-Romaine coming into view from a bend, and it looked so delightfully medieval. The town was perched on a slope, with old stone houses built to hug the terrain on each sides. The river Ouvèze flowed through the town, dividing it into two parts, and connecting the two sides was a sturdy but impressively ancient-looking bridge. This bridge did not only look ancient, it was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, and it is still in use even today, surviving floods, World War attacks, and the sheer numbers of people, horses, carts, and modern cars that must have crossed it in its long history.
We found the Gallo-Roman ruins in the lower part of the town. The Kid was just as excited as I was to explore the premise. This is another reason why I love ruins; they are toddler-proof. It is the best way of introducing history (and/or architecture, if you’re so inclined) to the little ones, without the intimidation of glass cases, sensitive alarm system, glaring attendants and hushed atmosphere. In an outdoor ruin, The Kid could walk freely, touch the rocks, climb onto the structures, crawl on the lawn, jabber away and eat her snack.
The ruins consisted of a complex of villas and dwellings of wealthy local noblemen. As I wandered around, I could discern the shapes of rooms, fountains, promenades, and other domestic fixtures. There were also public buildings such as baths, temple and a theater, located a distance away from the villas. All around the ruin complex is the living town. Not as old as the ruins, but they all blended in naturally like members of a family. We spent some time on the modern town itself, and enjoying ourselves being lost in the small labyrinthine streets and alleys.
We didn’t venture into the medieval part of the town on the other side of the river. I regretted it a bit, but having a 3-year-old, I suppose we decided back then that it was best to move on while everybody was still contented.