Avenches: The Ancient Roman Capital in Switzerland
Avenches in Switzerland is not a tomb where history is frozen. It is an active modern town where Roman ruins and Apple stores are as happy with each other as mountains and snow.
The Center of the Roman Empire in Switzerland
Having nothing urgent to do after bringing our grandaughter at her school in Laussane, we decided to venture to Avenches. Our neighbors had mentioned that there are Roman ruins there which coincided nicely with our reading as we were both into Iggulden's great Caesar trilogy.
I had just worked up to the point of Caesar and the Helvetians and Avenches was linked to this tribe. So, after a stop from our usual coffee place, off we went for what would be a surprising adventure.
Avenches was worth every meter of the drive. It was more than a pleasant surprise to see how much effort had been put into preserving not just the Roman ruins but the remnants of the Helvetians.
Avenches reinforced for us that history is a great ocean and not a linear staircase as we were taught to see in school. 1600 years sit side by side, with the old and the new as comfortable with each other as good friends.
The Hill which made Avenches a perfect place to defend against the wandering marauders of history sits there beckoning passers by to climb up and come for a visit.
The valley around it is so fertile that if you squint your eyes you can see the smiles of Roman peasants and ex-soldiers having come here from the overheated dusty valleys of Italy.
Founded by the Helvetians after their defeat by Julius Caesar, Aventicum, named after the local Celtic goddess of water, Aventia, reached its golden age after 72 AD when it was declared a Roman colony.
By the second and third centuries, Aventicum had 73 watch towers, its baths, its amphitheater and other symbols of Romanization. You can still see the physical memories of that time supporting the present town.
The imposing medieval style structure built in 1824 from the stones of the old Roman city, now houses the museum displaying the artifacts of the Helvetians and the Roman period.
The Roman Colony of Aventicum
The Helvetians were an interesting Celtic tribe of the pre-Roman era. I first read of them in a novel centered on Julius Caesar in which the writer Conn Iggulden portrayed them as highly skilled craftsmen and farmers.
They had a long migration towards the south of France in search of better land for their farms and this caused them to bump into other tribes and, finally, into the northward marching legions of Julius Caesar.
You can read about this in: Emperor: The Field of Swords: A Novel of Julius Caesar
It was during this southward drift led by their fascinating leader, Orgetorix, that the Helvetians fought the Romans at the Battle of Bibractae.
It's difficult to find a modern comparison between the highly disciplined Roman soldier and the classically independent forefather of today's Frenchmen.
Needless to say, the Helvetians got thumped and decided that being Swiss was maybe a better idea for their future. The Swiss have never fought again making them have a one thumped history.
The Well Preserved Amphitheatre in Avenches
The Amphitheatre and its surrounding space are living and breathing parts of the modern town and not just the remnants of a dead culture. They show how important a center Aventicum was during the Roman Empire though it lost much of this by the 5th century as the Roman Empire started to lose its prominence and other tribes invaded the place.
This second century amphitheatre was the center of political and social life in the ancient Roman city as well as being the hub of entertainment, where gladiators fought, plays were produced, festival celebrated and all the other celebrations of Roman life were held. It was said to have seated about 16000.
The Roman baths are in great shape and the remnants of the Cicognier Temple suggest that it may have been used for the worship of one or other of the self-proclaimed divine Emperors.
Walk around Avenches and enjoy its European boutiques and eating places, a welcome sight and experience after being saturated by the big malls of other cities.
Tourist Information in Avenches
We dropped in the Center and found really useful information and a warm and welcoming staff. This was a highlight as they drew us into getting a feel for the place and laying out Avenches role not just in Roman history but also in the development of Switzerland.
Before you leave, check out this article on another Swiss city:
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