6 Roman Amphitheatres in France That Still Hold Events

Many amphitheatres were built during Roman times, around 1 AD. An amphitheatre is an open-air venue for sports, performances, and entertainment. They were oval, round, or semi-circular in shape with seating for 10s of thousands of people. During the rule of Emperor Augustus, many were built in France and are often called “Arenas” (Arènes). Fortunately, many are still standing and they are worth visiting. Here are some Roman amphitheatres in France that still hold events and are worth visiting even when there isn’t an event.

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1. Orange Roman Amphitheatre: Théatre Antique d’Orange

Theatre Antique d'Orange (J. Chung)
Theatre Antique d’Orange (J. Chung)
Emperor Augustus-Orange Roman Amphitheatre (J. Chung)
Emperor Augustus-Orange Roman Amphitheatre (J. Chung)

The Roman Theatre of Orange is a UNESCO World Heritage site (since 1981). Emperor Augustus was ruling when it was built in the 1st century AD. I personally think that of all the Roman amphitheatres in France that I’ve seen, the one in Orange is the most impressive. Perhaps its because of the restored statue of Augustus in the centre of the enormous backdrop for the stage. It measures 3.55 meters high.

The stage wall is three stories tall and entertainment was provided to the public for free (ie. poetry readings, acting, pantomimes and in later years, church plays) and today, it is more than just a historical site. Concerts, theatrical performances, and multimedia events take place there often.

Special Features And Events:

  • Virtual reality visit where you learn about the construction of the Roman theatre.
  • In the summer, there is the annual opera festival, Chorégies d’Orange.

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2. Nimes Roman Amphitheatre

Outside Nimes Amphitheatre (J. Chung)
Nimes Roman Amphitheatre
Inside Nimes Amphitheatre (J. Chung)
Inside Nimes Amphitheatre (J. Chung)

The Nimes arena is considered to be the world’s best-preserved amphitheatre built around 100 AD, soon after the Roman Colosseum had been built. Gladiator fighting and theatrical events took place for an audience of 24,000. Each year, the Feria de Nîmes, highlighting bull fighting, is held there to an audience of up to 13,000 people.

Special Features And Events:

  • Displays about the history of gladiators and Roman games are on different levels of the amphitheatre.
  • Over three days in May, the Roman games are re-enacted in the “Spartacus Roman Games”.
  • Concerts are also held there throughout the year.

3. Arles Roman Amphitheatre

Outside Arles Amphitheatre (J. Chung)
Outside Arles Amphitheatre (J. Chung)
Corcorde d'Or-Arles Amphitheatre (J. Chung)
Corcorde d’Or-Arles Amphitheatre (J. Chung)

The Arles amphitheatre was constructed around 80 AD and it held numerous gladiator fights before 20,000 spectators. It is very well preserved and while much has been renovated (ie. the seating), you still get a sense of what it was like to see the gladiators fighting during Roman times.

Special Events:

  • Special events, like the Cocarde d’Or La Course Camarguaise bullfight that I attended, are held there. Throughout the week during the Spring and Summer months bullfights and La Course Camarguaise events are featured. 
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4. Lyon Roman Amphitheatre: Ancient Theatre of Fourvière

Lyon Roman Amphitheatre- Ancient Theatre of Fourviere (J. Chung)
Lyon Roman Amphitheatre- Ancient Theatre of Fourviere (J. Chung)

On the Fouviere hill above the city of Lyon, there is a whole area of Roman ruins and baths and in the centre is a Roman amphitheatre. It was built in two stages: first in 15 BC and later in the 2nd century where seating was added to accommodate up to 10,000 people.

Special Events:

  • As you can see in the photo, a stage with sound and lights are being set up for one of the many concerts and special events that are held in the amphitheatre.
  • One of the most popular events is the “Nuits de Fourvière”, a musical festival which is held in the summer.

5. Paris Roman Amphitheatre: Arènes de Lutèce

Paris Roman Amphitheatre: Arenes de Lutece (J. Chung)
Paris Roman Amphitheatre: Arènes de Lutèce (J. Chung)

Constructed in the 1st century, this arena is located in the 5th arrondissement, off Rue Monge, in Paris and is often overlooked today by visitors as it is hidden away behind stone walls and buildings.

It was used as a theatre and amphitheatre to showcase gladiator combats and animal acts to audiences as large as 15,000 spectators. Remains of animal cages can be found on the site. Through the centuries, its stones have been removed to help reinforce Paris’ defences, it’s been used as a cemetery, and eventually was filled in.

It wasn’t until the 1800s that work was done to unearth the amphitheatre and preserve the archeological findings. Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and Victor Hugo were some of the public figures who campaigned and arranged for its restoration. It was eventually turned into a public square, “Square des arènes de Lutèce”.

Special Features And Events:

  • Today, it is a popular hangout for families where children can run around, young people play soccer and just hang out as there is reconstructed seating and steps and some greenery in the area.
  • The 2018 Paris Gay Games held a pétanque event here.
  • In June 2019, the Nuits des Arènes held four days of events including debates.

6. Lillebonnne: Théatre Romain de Lillebonne

Roman Amphitheatre in Lillebonne (J. Chung)
Roman Amphitheatre in Lillebonne (J. Chung)

It’s rather remarkable what good shape the Lillebonne amphitheatre is in, considering it was built in the 1st  and 2nd centuries. It’s also surprising to see a Roman ruin in the north of France. The site is located in the heart of the town of Lillebonne, which is located in Normandy, just 35 kilometres southeast of Etretat. You can see  that the main road, Rue Victor Hugo, passes right by it.

The theatre was constructed on a natural slope of a hill. It was in operation until the 3rd century and then turned into a fortress. Soon after it was abandoned. Since 2007 there have been archeological excavations to restore the theatre. Some parts of the original stage have been found, underneath the road and Place Felix Fauré.

Special Features And Events:

  • It’s open from mid-June to mid-September and is free to enter
  • Throughout the year there are live concerts/events.

Map Of The Roman Amphitheatres In France

Roman Amphitheatres In France

Click on the map (or this link: Roman Amphitheatres) and you’ll be directed to a Google Map. Click on one of the markers and it will provide the exact location of the amphitheatre. 

Are there any other Roman amphitheatres in France that you have visited? Please share!

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Roman Amphitheatres In France That Still Hold Events

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One Comment

  1. So interesting.
    Amazing the beauty and we can still experience it today.

    Thank you.