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Welcome to the Medieval City of Vaison la Romaine

The fortunes of the two parts of Vaison - the Roman town and the Medieval town have been intertwined for more than 2,000 years. The rocky limestone hill that dominates the south bank of the Ouvèze river was first inhabited around 2000 BC by the Voconces tribe. Roman Vasio is therefore a relative youngster by comparison.

Many of the foundations of the oldest houses in the Haute Ville were in turn built from stones ‘borrowed’ from the Roman town. Since then, there has been an ebb and flow between the town in the plain and the natural refuge on the hill. When times were calm the town on the other side of the river grew; when they were unsettled that same population fled to the security of the hill, which was soon fortified by ramparts and gates.

 In the 12th century, the Counts of Toulouse built a castle on top of the hill, later rebuilt in stone after the first wooden fort burnt down.  Around the same time, the Haute Ville saw the Bishops of Vaison build their private houses and chapels along the axis that runs from the church to the Promenade des Consuls. Much of the next 500 years is the story of the constant struggle between the rule of the bishops and the Counts of Toulouse for control of not just Vaison but much of the surrounding area.

 Until the French Revolution in 1789 the Haute Ville was the administrative centre for both the lower and upper towns.  The first three town halls for all of Vaison were in the Haute Ville, as was the gaol, or rather the gaols, because from the Middle Ages onwards power in Vaison was divided between the spiritual and the temporal. All this partially explains why Vaison has two cathedrals - one in the lower town, and another in the Haute Ville which is being restored largely through the efforts of the residents of the Cité Médiévale.

The oldest houses in the Haute Ville are not technically medieval at all.  They probably date from the 16th century; many from the 18th. After 1798  the Haute Ville physically deteriorated as the lower town grew. Shops closed, the population dwindled; the Haute Ville became synonymous with squalor and squatters. It is only in the past fifty years that houses - many dilapidated - have been restored and artists, restaurants and shops have returned. For most things such as bread, vegetables, meat and fish,  the 150 full time residents (a further 100 live here part-time) have to go down to the lower town. It keeps them fit.

In the past few years, old forgotten cobbled paths called calades have been cleared and reopened for the enjoyment of residents and tourists alike. From the rue de la Coste one has a fabulous view of all Vaison in its river valley. The gardens on either side are built within the old foundations of small houses destroyed in the late 19th century. In 2013 the church will finally reopen, and later, hopefully, the castle.

With more than half a dozen restaurants and as many art galleries the Haute Ville is once again a vibrant counterweight to the larger ‘Roman’ and modern Vaison on the northern side of the Ouvèze.

This site lists most (not all) the places one can stay, eat and enjoy paintings. In the summer months there is a ban on cars during the daytime (there is a large free car park just the other side of the Roman Bridge) and one needs good strong walking shoes.

One request: please remember people live here.
Respect their privacy and their village

Pascal Ambrogiani

July 18 and 19
Journée du Livre

tour in the streets of Medieval City
24 April through Septembre 24 2015

photo: Laurent Pamato