Orange! Yes another ancient Roman city in Gaul, another place I visited on my own waaaay back in 1999, and the very last day trip (also on my own) of my very last trip abroad to date (Covid's fault, not my own). Located only a half hour or so from Avignon, with plenty of daily trains to and from, quite easy for me, and much desired by me.
The reason? One only, though I am sure there are others. I had a great urge to re-visit perhaps THE best preserved ancient Roman theatre in the world. In 1999 it was high on my list, as I was in Europe specifically to photograph famous performance spaces for my theatre history class. Ithaca College's slide collection was a woeful mess when I was offered a job in the Department of Theatre Arts. And while I began building the collection from my earliest days at IC, I had to wait for my first sabbatical leave to really (truly, madly, deeply) increase it.
The center of old Orange is easily enough reached. I discarded the idea of a taxi as it was a pretty day, and instead walked briskly for between 12-15 minutes along a road that took me directly from station to ancient theatre.
The theatre is impossible to miss, and once found it seems at once a big deal and not a big deal, as upon entering the plaza on which it stands/of which it dominates, this is what the visitor is confronted with the huge (see white van at lower right for perspective) rear wall of the scaena, or scene house - overpowering, and not terribly attractive:
Once inside, after paying a small entrance fee and walking through the at least as small souvenir shop, I was first caught up, looking to my left, in the front wall of the monumental scaena frons (the front of the scaena as well as the backdrop for the pulpitum, or stage.
Then, looking to my right, I couldn't help noticing the cavea, the tiered, semicircular audience space.
As I climbed up into the cavea, each time I stopped and turned back on the journey up, I got a an increasingly full and quite grand view of the most imposing scaena frons and in front of it, about 5 feet off the ground, the long, thin rectangular pulpitum, or stage.
As Stevie Wonder used to sing it, "higher and higher."
So! scaena, scaena frons, pulpitum, cavea - get it? got it? good! There WILL be a quiz. There is only one statue on the scaena frons, that of Augustus Caesar, dead center. To get a better sense of what it might have looked like in the days of ancient Rome - or in this case Gaul - imagine the other niches on the wall also containing statuary - splendiferous, right? You should also notice three doors, largest at center, the other two flanking it.
(Above, the central door and the statue of Augustus.) Those three doors were used as entrances for the actors. Two other entrances/exits, at each end of the pulpitum. In ancient Greece these would have been spaces from which the chorus entered. But in the Roman era the chorus, a seminal part of Greek drama, was eliminated. But the end entrances were used, one of them said to head to the agora, or center of town, the other to head out into the country. Romans also loved spectacle, and frequently large parades were added to the drama, participants entering at one end of the theatre or the other.
Some of you have by now had enough or more than enough of learning about the parts of ancient Roman theatres. But I want to show you two more photos looking at either side of the stage and beyond.
I climbed higher in the cavea, on the hill it was built. The actors would have been pretty tiny from this height, but to the right there's a great view of Orange's rooftops, and beyond, the mountains.
And to the left, the remains of an ancient Roman Temple
The wooden floor of the pulpitum is pretty obviously newer than the rest of the stone theatre. It was placed there in the 20th century for summer productions of opera held here - still held, though I'm fairly certain that in summer 2020 no festival was held, probably not this summer either.
One last shot of the scaena frons and pulpitum, with a few people looking at it, just for perspective.
All in all a beautiful theatrical experience.
In the Place du République, the square next to the theatre, there are several places to eat - I had a good omelette at one of them before heading back to Avignon.
In addition, there is a small museum of history and art, admission included in your ticket to see the theatre.
I found this statue (see below), in the square and facing the gigantic scaena, dramatic and impressive, if somewhat enigmatic.
I had to do a bit of digging to find the "meaning." Want to know what it is? An artist named Injalbert created it. "The theme of [his] composition is 'L'ame antique remettant le flambeau de l'art au genie moderne' ('the spirit of antiquity re-igniting the flame of modern art')." Get it? Got it. Good!
And on walk back to the rail station, I couldn't help noticing this clearly impressive (well, impressively named) place - New Jack. Has a ring to it. I'm afraid that I remain Old Jack, but glad to see that there's a newer, younger, brighter version.
And that is that! Except for a few details, travel nightmares and the day I spent in Frankfurt before I flew back to the U.S., which I'll write about in my next blog, my last trip abroad pre-pandemic came to an end. What a journey! I only hope that those of you who read this blog will have at at least as much fun, good weather, and new adventures, as I did on my three weeks in the South of France.