(Maison au Dauphin - Roman Ruins Site- Vaison)
When walking around Vaison, it's easy to feel as though there are so many deeper layers to the town than the things you are seeing on the surface, as if the town is an artichoke, just waiting for you to pull back it's layers and expose its core.
No matter where Andy and I have lived, we've always loved asking the locals as much as we can about the area and how things used to be.
(Photo from restaurantguru.com - the oven is in the open doors to the left of the restaurant.)
Rue Des Fours
So many evenings after dinner we have wandered the streets of the haut ville, slowly taking in all of the buildings and a lot of the street signs. During this time, we've collected many different questions to ask the locals in regards to findings on these little walks. On one particular stroll, we noticed one of the main streets that leads through the village is named "Rue Des Fours." On a recent tour of Vaison with an expert, I finally got to ask the question I had been wondering for two years... where exactly are (or were) all of the ovens?
Four means oven in French and Rue Des Fours literally means street of the ovens. I was under the impression that this had to be the street where the original bakery must have been located.
"So where were the ovens?" I asked our guide, thinking she would point to an old home or vacant lot that once homed a boulangerie.
Walking down the street a little further, she finally stopped at an open garage door that housed a small plaque on the exterior wall.
Up to that point, I had never seen the doors open, nor had I ever noticed the plaque.
"This is the old oven," she pointed deep into the back of the space. There located against the back wall were the clear remnants of an old, massive oven.
"The homes were packed so tightly together that it left very little room for things like ovens inside each of their homes. Plus, with everyone living on top of each other, starting multiple fires so close together didn't seem like the best idea. This was the communal oven for the town," she said, finally unraveling the mystery.
It seemed a little anti-climatic in the moment, but now, of course I am filled with questions about the oven. Who exactly owns the space now? What is it used for? When was it decommissioned? The full unraveling of this historical site is to be continued!
If you have read some of my other posts, you may have read the one about our newly acquired Fatima's hand door knocker. I not only love how it looks, I also love the history behind it and love finding the different styles of hands all throughout Vaison. I also loved the photos people have sent me of their own Fatima's hand (shout out to Colleen and her charming village home!) On my hunt for more hands around Vaison, however, I started seeing something that I hadn't noticed before; little shovel door knockers. There were too many of them to be a random coincidence and so I started digging, pun very much intended, in order to discover the story behind them.
It took some asking around, but after some time I found someone who knew their history and why so many neighbors had them.
"At one point, someone was excavating their basement for a renovation and found some very valuable gold Roman coins. This started a mad treasure hunt throughout the town, where all of the neighbors started digging up their basements in search of buried treasure. Finally, the mayor had to put his foot down, stating that if residences don't stop digging their basements, the foundations are going to crumble and the town is going to cave in on itself."
It turns out, the shoves are a little nod to that event in the towns more recent history. I find this tidbit of Vaison history incredibly charming.
"All of our homes are essentially built on top of Roman ruins," a friend explained.
"Wait, what?" I replied, a little perplexed.
"Yes, not too long ago they were digging to create a parking lot and unearthed a whole slew of things," he added.
"What did they do with it?" I asked. My mind went to some grandiose event. The area being roped off, perhaps excavation teams being brought it from around the globe, tiny Vaison making national news!
"Well, they stopped digging and buried it back up," he said, very matter of factly.
I'm a pretty curious person, so I could easily see myself continuing to excavate until a whole new ruin site was exposed, so the end of the story was a bit lacking for me.
"I wanted to know what kind of site they had uncovered. I wish they would have continued on," I replied.
"But, if we did that," the friend continued on, "no one would have anywhere to live! You'd never stop digging!"
Ok, maybe he had a point. There really was only so far down you could logically go.
It's definitely interesting being surrounded with so much history here in Vaison. Coming from the U.S., we thought our 1860's home was old. Around here, that is considered on the younger side.
(Photo provided by: Marie-Celine.com)
Is that a tombstone?
It was hard to decide what exactly to include when it came to the hidden gems of Vaison that the daily visitor probably misses, but one of the items that inspired me to post this list was a piece of history about the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Nazareth. Almost every French village has its church, and I am sure, a slew of ancient history attached to it. When it came to this particular church, though, I almost couldn't pick which fact to use, as there were so many. Anyone who walks around its entire base can see that ancient ruins remain near parts of its exterior. Some people miss, however, one of the most interesting artifacts left behind, and it's simply because they were so fascinated with the ruins on the ground that they didn't look up!
If you look up around the middle of the bell tower, you will see what looks like a face carved into the stonework. Looking around the structure, you can see stones in different shapes, colors and sizes. What some don't realize is that when they were building the church, they used whatever materials they could find at the time. A lot of the materials came from the Roman ruins site just next door, as they dissembled the structures no longer in use.
When scavenging for any materials they could find to finish the project, someone had actually taken another person's tomb stone and placed it in the exterior wall of the building to finish the project, taking the idea of letting nothing go to waste to the next level here!
It's hard to get a great photo of it from so far down, but you can definitely see the face from my photo above.
Have you visited Vaison and seen any of the hidden gems listed or did you happen to catch one not found on this list?
What about your French "hometown?" What is a fun, under-the-radar fact that most tourist visiting don't catch? With how old all of these towns are, I'm sure they have a lot!
Post below and share your stories!
-Happy Sunday! -R
Bonjour, Ciao, Salut! My name is Rachel and I am a part-time resident of Provence that splits my time between Pittsburgh, Pa and Vaison la Romaine. Come take a deep dive with me into Provençal culture, food, history, villages, markets and all of the quirks that come along with them!