Today we drove back roads about 70 miles to Orange to explore their Roman theater, one of only three Roman theaters in the world that still has it's skene structure behind the stage still in tact. The skene is where props and painted backgrounds were stored and also served to enhance acoustics during performances.
The theater in Orange is so well preserved and so large it has been designated a World Heritage site. I climbed to the top level of the ancient seating and managed to get some pretty exceptional panoramas as well as normal images too. There was additional seating above my vantage point that had been added in modern times but I thought I had pushed my luck far enough. The steps I used were very worn in the center and you couldn't help wonder what famous Roman had climbed those same steps all those centuries ago.
Our admission ticket included a very informative short film about the history of the theater. It was built during the 1st century CE, an era known as the Augustan period. In fact, a statue of an imperial Caesar was standing in a niche in the center of the skene. My friends told me the audio guide said it was probably originally Augustus but as the centuries came and went the heads of successive emperors were traded for the original.
You notice I mentioned that my friends told me what the audio guide said. I rarely want to hassle an audio guide when I am already dealing with cameras and camera bags. Besides, as a photographer I am constantly frustrated by what I call audio guide zombies. People with audio guides invariably plant themselves in front of an exhibit and zone out staring at the floor with a little drool running out of the corner of their mouths. They remain rooted to the spot until they've heard every last word the guide has to say in spite of the fact that they are blocking the view for everyone else. Of course I'm exaggerating about the drool but you get the idea. I've mentioned this to my friends so today when they went to get their audio guides I called after them and said "Remember, no drooling!!" Of course they laughed, knowing what I meant.
At Fontainebleau I not only had to put up with large numbers of audio guide zombies but a very pushy tour guide. She was wearing a headset and was droning on and on with glassy eyes, obviously on auto pilot. She just shouldered me out of the way and the lemmings that were dutifully following along behind her pinned me against the ropes so I couldn't get out of their way if I wanted to and couldn't get a picture either.
Fortunately, the theater was so large in Orange and the visitors so sparse since it was a work day that I could easily search out a location where I could use my cameras with little interference.
After we left the theater we walked across the street to a creperie and I ordered a savory crepe filled with questionable seafood. The menu said it was going to contain scallops but I found only one scallop. The rest of the filling was a dubious mixture of what I think was sliced calamari and possibly mussels but I can't be sure. Some seafood enthusiasts might have enjoyed it immensely but I chalked it up to a culinary experience that I probably would not like to repeat. At least it had a large prawn on top that was reasonably tasty although it stared me down through the entire meal. I ordered one of my favorite Italian desserts, panna cotta, topped with what I hoped would be fresh raspberries (fruit rouge) but instead the restaurant used a thick raspberry jam that was way too sweet and totally overwhelmed the delicate custard. I think the lesson here was don't eat at restaurants that are just too convenient to major tourist attractions.
After enduring our lunch, we toured the little museum housing bas relief fragments and mosaics recovered from the theater excavation then headed out of town stopping to photograph the Roman triumphal arch built by Augustus' best friend and general extraordinaire, Marcus Agrippa. Sadly, the centuries have worn away most of the bas reliefs that decorated the structure but it was still pretty impressive. I marched through it imagining what it would have been like to pass through it in a triumphal chariot with my face painted red like a victorious Roman general.
We drove north for a short distance then turned down a bunch of streets trying to figure out which road might take us to the summit of a rocky hill where we could see a medieval fortress but we just kept running into dead ends and finally gave up and headed home.
Tomorrow we're headed to Avignon to photograph the papal palace then on to the Pont Du Gard, one of the best examples of a Roman aqueduct.