Travelling in time as Bibracte shares its secrets – Every year, around about now, archaeologists and their students at Europe’s top universities start packing their bags and make a beeline for Burgundy.
Their destination is Bibracte and they are seekers of long lost secrets.
And Bibracte, spread over 200 hectares in the heart of the spectacular Morvan Regional Natural Park, has plenty to share.
Welcome to the ancient capital of the powerful Aedui tribe, home to up to 10,000 people in the 1st century BC; an economic and political powerhouse of its day.
It was here that Vercingetorix was proclaimed leader of the Gauls in 52BC shortly before a final, fateful showdown with Julius Caesar and his legions at Alesia.
It was to be a pivotal moment for Gaul and signalled the beginning of the end for Bibracte.
The settlement went into serious decline as Gallo-Roman influences took hold and slowly disappeared into the Morvan hills, surrendering to forests and Mother Nature.
Today, not surprisingly, it is an archaeologists dream. Excavations continue to bring impressive rewards – I am pleased to be able to give an honourable mention here to teams from my home town University of Durham that have been involved – unearthing buildings, sophisticated fortifications and a rich harvest of artifacts.
As yet though, these efforts only start to scratch the surface. What makes the Bibracte project so exciting is that only five percent of this ancient site has so far been unearthed. Who knows what this summer’s digging will discover?
But the adventure is not exclusive to the experts.
Visitors flock to Bibracte in their thousands to wander through this uniquely preserved time capsule and soak up its unique atmosphere.
One thing is certain, the Aedui certainly knew a thing or two about location. At its highest levels Bibracte offers panoramic views east from Mont Beuvray to the Alps, and on a clear day you can see Mont Blanc in all its glory.
A guided tour is recommended as you make their way down through the forested mountain sides to visit excavated villas, what would have been busy streets and shops, civic buildings and inspect highly complex fortifications.
At the foot of Mont Beuvray the Bibracte story comes alive in a new way, at its modern museum dedicated to Celtic civilisation at the end of the Iron Age. Like its sister at Alesia, Bibracte Museum is wonderfully laid out and an invitation to immerse yourself in history.
And when in Gaul you can do as the Gauls did – tucking in to authentic dishes of the day at Le Chaudron (The Cauldron) a short walk from the museum building. There’s also a fine range of ales – Cervoise de Bibracte – but don’t be fooled by their friendly flavours – thyme, elderflower and hazelnut – the beers pack a punch at 6.3%.
If you are touring Burgundy you’ll be spoilt for choice on what to do and where to visit. Exploring More would strongly recommend adding Bibracte to your list of places to visit.
Bibracte fact file
The archaeological site is open all year round for free and the museum from mid-March to mid-November.
Tickets and tour information are at www.bibracte.fr
The local population planted new roots, moving a mere 10 miles down the road, as the new city Augustodunum (modern day Autun) took shape. Location was everything again only this time the driving force was commerce.
Founded by Emperor Augustus it was the main Gallo-Roman city of what is now northern France and earned a reputation as the ‘emulator of Rome.’
It’s a tribute to the city’s guardians that some fine and well preserved examples of its Roman past are still strikingly in evidence. They are brought together as the Augustodunum Circuit, a tour that that can be taken as a four-hour walk, by car (1.5 hours) or by bike (2.5 hours).
Whatever you choose you’ll not be disappointed and there’s helpful advice on tour guides available at the tourism office on Rue du Général Andre Demetz.
Autun today is a thriving market town; a pleasant visitor friendly place whose townsfolk are immensely proud of its past. And who can blame them with such impressive remains ringing the city. They include:-
• A Roman theatre built in 70AD to accommodate audiences of up to 20,000. Now the dramatic setting for historical shows, every summer, that bring Augustodunum back to life.
• The Porte Saint-Andre gave access to the Decumanus Maximus (east-west route through Augustodunum)
• With special thanks to our guides, Isabel McGarva (Bibracte) and Marie Martinez (Autun) and to Burgundy Tourism for their help with this travel feature.