April 26, 2015


Relics of the Mediterraean Roman civilization are not hard to find here in Southern France (and I imagine anywhere near the Mediterranean coast.) The Romans ruled for about 500 years, building a complicated infrastructure. Today some of what remains is in ruins, some not ruined at all.

My ride to Ambrussom, approximately 25 miles east of Montpellier was smooth, easy even, following a route on Gerry's first site Cycling Languedoc. I rode there because I am always interested in seeing Roman sites and relics... they light my imagination with an old, lasting, different, yet still sophisticated and cultured way to live on the planet. One that shaped and informed our own in so many ways. Ways that I don't truly understand.

But truthfully, my main intent was to see Le Pont Ambroix made famous  by the 19th century French painter, Gustave Courbet. That painting is owned by the Musée Fabre, here in Montpellier, and I visited it last Sunday (a rainy, jet-lagged, first day in France) specifically to have a look  before my ride.

Once past the sprawl of Montpellier (do not think the sprawl of the 7th largest US city ... this took maybe 30 minutes max from downtown, mostly on bike paths) I was on small rural roads, which linked towns one to the other. The smallest was marked only by this sign for the D26E4 .... D indicates a departementale road, when  a D road is followed by these defining letters, I have learned to keep my eyes open for markers and to take nothing for granted.

It is well into spring here, and I am more than happy to report a bit of sunburn. The sun feels so good, lush and warming, energetic, on my pasty New England winter skin, skin that hardly remembers feeling at ease. The iris are mostly past, the wisteria and few lilacs that I see in full bloom. I have no idea how lilacs survive here, they like cold, long, New England winters.

Hope you get as big a laugh as I did out of this field. That is quite the clear dividing line. And, you see, the poppies are blooming.

But back to Courbet. The Romans built the 11-arch bridge on the Via Domitia, the road from Italy to Spain, in the first century BC. It was still used as a bridge until sometime in the Middle Ages. But the River Vidourle, so peaceable looking when I was there, is a violent torrent in flood. When Courbet painted the bridge in 1857, two arches of the original 11 were still standing. One of those two remaining arches was destroyed in 1933.

I walked (well, sometimes rode my bike Papillon) up to the top of the hill, to look at the ruins of the oppidum, or Roman city. The foundations look like many I have seen, and I confess to not truly understanding them, especially here, where the little museum was closed. But I do imagine Romans living and traveling here, going about their business, caring for their families, defending their cities, playing, eating, loving, hating, arguing, laughing. The world hasn't, perhaps, changed so very much.

I loved the contrast between the Roman methods of communication, with the Via Domitia and ours, with our towers and massive highways. You can see the tower in the background, and the A9 passes immediately nearby. That road, along with the A7, links Italy and Spain today.

And here are two photos of the road that carried Roman household products: oil, wine, fish, spices, building materials and tools. Look carefully: you can see wheel ruts! For me, this by itself is transporting.

The ride back was uneventful but it is always diferent following a road in the opposite direction, and here is a big thank you!!! to every cyclist (and non cyclist) who helped, when I asked in my probably terribly accented French if I was on the road I intended. There is another post there, about the international camaderie and community of cycling .... but for now I say only thank you and I appreciate it!


  1. Glad you got over there. Ambrussum was one of the highlights of my first year and satisfied my own little Roman fetish quite nicely! Pro Tip: it's a nice place for a picnic, too.

    1. It looked like a great place for a picnic. That written by me, who assumed I would find something enroute and so didn't pack a lunch. A tabac and bread dropoff on the way back had 2 pain au chocolats. Someday I may learn.

  2. The ruts appear only on the right side of your images. Were you facing the same direction in both instances? Also, the neutrality of cloudy light gives more detail. The walls, the walls: they've stood the test of time. Amazing!

    1. Yes the photos were taken looking in the same direction, and almost at the same place. I see the ruts as only on the left side of the road ... actually pretty much taking the entire width of the bottom photo. Yes! Those walls ...to me it is totally boggling that these things have been outdoors, here, for so very long.

  3. We visited the same spot courtesy of Gerry. Ally was very impressed by the track in particular. As far as I can remember it is part of a road to Spain.

  4. I should have added that you took a great picture of the famous bridge.

  5. Hi Tootlepedal! Blogger seems to have eaten my response from the 27th, since I see it is not here...so, I rewrite. Thank you !!! for noticing the bridge photo, I worked at that one.

    Yes, the road as I understand was Italy to Spain....And yes, I am with Ally with appreciating those ruts...

    Happy pedaling, to you both!


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