The Central Square of Fréjus
(a photo by Andy :-))
Fréjus is an old French town located 3 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea in Côte d'Azur. It is a part of larger conurbation with the neighboring town of Saint-Raphaël, which is locate directly on the seafront. Fréjus was founded by Julius Caesar with the name Forum Julii. The ancient city became an important naval base in the time of the Roman Empire and 2 km of stone quays were constructed, connected to the sea by a specially built walled canal. It is know that after the fateful battle of Actium (31 BC), the defeated fleet of Antony and Cleopatra came to Forum Julii. The population of the ancient Roman city was even higher than this of present day Fréjus. A few remains of its stone walls and from its large harbor can still be seen. The medieval town centre formed around the ancient port, which silted up in the late antiquity and was eventually filled in the time after the French Revolution.
(a photo by GrooveBox)
A longer sightseeing tour of the Roman monuments will give you a closer idea of the grandeur of Forum Julii. Probably you will need an entire day to see all of them, because the ancient remains are scattered not only in the town centre but in a larger area. Starting your walk from the central railway station SNCF you should go along boulevard Severin-Decuers, reaching the Butte St. Antoine. It was a strong fortress on which remained stone walls you can see the traces of the sea water, as in ancient times here was the port. The fortress was a part of the port defending system and probably one of its towers has been a lighthouse. Follow the alley along the southern wall of Butte St. Antoine to the medieval, 10 m high tower Lanterne d'Auguste. The archaeologists claim that it was built over an older Roman structure, which market the entrance of the artificially constructed canal into the ancient port.
(a photo by Fabrice Terrasson)
Taking the opposite direction from the central station you should pass by the former gate into the ancient city walls - Porte des Gaules, then walk along the rue Henri-Vadon and eventually come to the Roman Amphitheatre. Although it is with smaller size compared to those of Arles and Nîmes, there are more than 10.00 seating places. At present day, the amphitheatre hosts bullfights and various concerts. The upper tiers of the monument have been reconstructed with the same greenish local stones which were used by the Roman builders, while its ground floor vaulted galleries are entirely authentic. North of the town is located the Roman theatre, which original stone seats were plundered long time ago and now it is entirely reconstructed to host different summer events. In north-eastern direction from Théâtre-Romaine is situated park Aurelienne. It keeps six well preserved arches of the 40-km-long Roman aqueduct which was as high as the ramparts. Near the town centre, in rue des Moulins, you can see another Roman monument - the arcades of Porte d'Orée. In ancient times it marked the end of the harbour and was alongside a large complex, probably baths.
The Roman Aqueduct
(a photo by Fabrice Terrasson)
The modern day central square of Fréjus - Place Formigé, was also the heart of the medieval city. Its two sides are flanked by Cité Episcopale - a 13th-century Episcopal palatial complex built in Gothic style. Besides the palace which is turned now into a luxurious hotel, the complex comprises the cathedral, the baptistery, the chapterhouse, the cloisters and the city's archaeological museum. The cathedral can be freely visited, while the baptistery and the cloisters are accessible only through guided tours.
The most ancient part of the complex is the baptistery. It is an early Christian temple built in the 4th or the 5th century, witnessing the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Its two doorways have different sizes to symbolize the higher spiritual status of the already baptized person. Parts of the early Gothic Cathedral probably belong to an earlier 10th-century church, but its most beautiful features are from the Renaissance period: the splendid carved doors depicting scenes of a Saracen massacre, the choir stalls and the wooden crucifix on the left side of the entrance. The cloisters are definitely the most attractive and engaging element in the whole architectural ensemble. They are nestled within a fragrant garden with beautiful flowers and green bushes, around a well. The 12th-century marble columns raise to support a ceiling made of wooden panels with amazing apocalyptic frescoes dating back to the 14ht century. The archaeological museum, housed on the second floor of the cloisters, shows an interesting exhibition, including a complete Roman mosaic and a double-headed bust of Hermes.