Glanum is a fascinating way to spend a couple hours, strolling about the ancient buildings and learning about past civilizations.
As explained throughout the site, this is not the ruins of a city at one particular time, but the remains of successive settlements built at different times, starting with a small fortified town almost 2500 years ago. Most of the ruins date back to the Gallo-Roman period. Several of the buildings have informative signs and overhead maps explaining what they were and how people used them. You are also given a map when you enter, suggesting a route for your visit and providing further detail on parts of the site. One of the highlights is the old sacred spring, which has been a pilgrimage location for thousands of years. It is now home to several colorful carp. The parking lot area includes two of the more majestic Gallo-Roman monuments, which are free to visit, and serve to whet your appetite for the awesomeness of seeing the rest of the site.
Glanum was abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire, and its inhabitants founded Saint-Remy, just up the road. Many of the old buildings in Saint-Remy were built using stones from Glanum. After a while, the ancient town site was buried by floods, leaving only the monuments in what is now the parking lot. These two monuments were maintained for centuries and became the focus of pilgrimages. It’s no surprise that they are the best preserved of the ruins in the area.
The site is quite large, but only part of the ancient city has been excavated. While some of it is now buried under the nearby highway, there are still archaeologists working on site doing research and restoration, so it may expand in the future. The excitement of discovery is palpable here, and we found ourselves chatting with other enthusiastic visitors about what we were seeing and experiencing. There is a small museum at the entrance displaying artwork and bits of building interiors found on site, although much of this material has been taken away to other museums for preservation. For what it’s worth, Glanum was a far more educational and enlightening experience than all of the Arles monuments combined, despite their better state of preservation.
When you visit Glanum, they give you a book that gets you a discounted admission to the adjacent Cloître Saint-Paul, an ancient hospital that once cared for the pilgrims visiting the Roman monuments but now cashes in on its connection to Van Gogh. It is also worth a visit.
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