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Roman Amphitheatre – Saintes

Roman Amphitheatre – Saintes

The Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes is a 1st century AD construction built around 40AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius.

Saintes Roman Amphitheatre history

Saintes was then known as Mediolanum Santonum and was a thriving Roman settlement in modern day France which was founded around 20BC. The amphitheatre itself would have had space for several thousand spectators and would have been the venue for ancient Roman games. Accommodating from 12 to 15,000 spectators attend sometimes bloody and violent shows, it was made by taking advantage of the site of the relief. The tiers are based on the slopes of a valley side and is on an embankment in the west.

The arena, 66 metres long and 39 metres wide, was surrounded by a stone block wall and two large side doors allowed to communicate with the outside. One of them was reserved for victors gladiators: it was called “the door of the living”.

Although used as a quarry in the Middle Ages, the amphitheater is one of the best preserved of the ancient Roman province. The arena, foundations and some steps have been cleared and partly restored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These remains give a fairly accurate picture of what was the vast edifice in antiquity.

Saintes Roman Amphitheatre today

Along with the Arch of Germanicus, the Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes gives visitors a glimpse of the historic ancient Roman city and is certainly worth a visit for anyone exploring the area.

Much of the seating area is now grown over with grass but it is an impressive place. It is still possible to imagine the battles that went on here between gladiators and as in Rome’s Colosseum, wild animals.

Similar in design to that in the Italian capital, at one end of the Saintes amphitheatre is the Sanavivaria doorway through which entered the gladiators and animals ready for battle. If they were lucky enough to survive the content, they exited through the same doorway. However, if they died, they were despatched through the Libitinensis door (named after Libitina, the goddess of death, corpses and funerals).

Though it became an official historical monument in 1840, the site is now a venue hosting shows and concerts.

Getting to Saintes Roman Amphitheatre

The address of the location is Amphithéâtre gallo-romain, 20 Rue Lacurie, 17100 Saintes. The site is located in the centre of the town, west of the Charente and roughly a 20 minute walk from the famous Roman Arch of Germanicus.

The small town of Saintes is located in the department of Charente-Maritime of the french region Poitou-Charentes. It is roughly 120km (1hr 30min drive) north of Bordeaux and 80km (1hr drive) south of La Rochelle on the western coast of France. The site is very accessible from the road with free parking closeby.


The region we know today as Saintes was occupied in Gaulish times by a tribe called the Santones (or Santoni). The town of Mediolanum was erected on the banks of the Charente at the westernmost end of the Via Agrippa linking Lyon and Aquitaine. It became an important administrative centre. In a testimony to the Roman desire to highlight their dominion over the city, monuments were erected that were worthy of a major capital. The way the city developed also reflects the exchange in lifestyles between Gauls and Romans.

Mediolanum was the first historical capital of Aquitania, one of the three large regions of Gaul conquered by Caesar.

The town boasts some of the most important Gallo-Roman remains to be found anywhere in western France, including the amphitheatre and the Arch of Germanicus.

MEDIOLANUM SANTONUM – Saintes, Nueva Aquitania

Mediolanum Santonum

Amphitheatre of Saintes

The Saintes Roman amphitheater in the department of Charente-Maritime, was built in the first century AD. Its construction began during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14-37) and ended by that of Claude (41-54).

The city then known as Mediolanum Santonum was the capital of Gallia Aquitania.

Accommodating from 12 to 15,000 spectators attend sometimes bloody and violent shows, it was made by taking advantage of the site of the relief. The tiers are based on the slopes of a valley side and is on an embankment in the west.

The arena long 66 m wide and 39 m was surrounded by a stone block wall and two large side doors allowed to communicate with the outside. One of them was reserved for victors gladiators: it was called "the door of the living".

Although used as a quarry in the Middle Ages, the amphitheater is one of the best preserved of the ancient Roman province. The arena, foundations and some steps have been cleared and partly restored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These remains give a fairly accurate picture of what was the vast edifice in antiquity.

Historical Monument in 1840, it now hosts shows and concerts.

Open daily from May to September, from Tuesday to Sunday from October to March. Closed on 1 January, 1 May, 1 November and 25 December. Free or guided visit (fee). educational booklet available for families with children. Price: 4 euros (7 euros for a guided tour). Information +33 5 46 97 73 85.

A little history of Saintes amphitheatre

The old city of Mediolanum, the most important city of Aquitaine, has got several Roman monuments. We are here in a very old city, founded in 30 BC by Agrippa, who laid out the big road linking up Lyon to Aquitaine and to Saintes.

Put up in the reign of emperor Augustus, the theatre, a vast ellipse (133 metres long and 108 metres wide), was located in the western city. Row of seats were raised on the hillside: the theatre could welcome 20 000 spectators, on three rows!

We still can see the podium, a kind of terrace on which magistrates stood animals were released from the two boxes, to the West and East, in order to fight against the gladiators.

In 1849, city of Saintes owned the ruins and restored them.

By the way, did you notice? On the Southern side, we can see a small fountain, dedicated to saint Eustelle, saint Eutrope's favourite disciple, first bishop of the city. Young ladies used to go here and made a wish in order to get wed within a year.

What to do In Saintes, France

Become a Gladiator at the Amphitheatre Gallo-Roman de Saintes

These amazing roman ruins were once a place of gladiator fights, animal hunts and even somewhere to witness lunchtime executions. Constructed around 40 – 50 AD this impressive monument could once accommodate between 12 and 15 thousand people.

Situated north of the Charente river and Saintes city center it’s easy to miss, but you really don’t want to.

This spot is perfect for a picnic in the sun, or even a relaxing afternoon read. There are entrance fees, but at 4euros per adult it’s not going to break the bank and it’s well worth it. With your entry you get an information sheet and unlimited time inside the amphitheatre, so make the most of it and bring a big hamper of lunch. If you have children and wondering what there is to in Saintes for kids, then this place is great for them to pretend to be gladiators for a while.

Stroll Along the Charente River

The Charente is a 237mile long river located within 4 departments of France Haute-Vienne, Charente, Vienne and Charente-Maritime. While in the Charente Maritime, the river flows right through the centre of Saintes. The river bank in Saintes is a lovely location for a stroll. With seats scattered along the bank, you can sit and watch the river flow by or, if you prefer, you can hire an electric boat and cruise straight down it.

Snap-up at the Selfie Points

There are 10 selfie points around the city centre. Situated at all the main photographic monuments you’ll find this little green circle on the floor. Stand upon it, hold out your phone and snap up a shot. If you want to find them all, then head to the locations listed below:

  • St. Eutropius Basilica
  • the place of the Échevinage
  • the end of the Alsace-Lorraine street
  • the portal of St. Peter’s Cathedral
  • the arc of Germanicus
  • the public Garden
  • Ladies’ Abbey
  • the prairie of La Palu
  • the esplanade of Bellevue

Don’t forget to upload your selfies to Instagram and tag the @saintestourisme account.

Read a Book in the Jardins

These bookcases are really popular throughout France and in many small villages have replaced phone boxes.

The gardens in Saintes are a great place to spend some time and take in some nature, so why not sit for a while and read one of the many books. Don’t worry about them all being french, we found some cracking English ones like Cheryl Cole’s biography (lol)!

The public gardens are filled with beautiful flowers, play parks for young children and skate parks for older children as well as a small bird aviary (although I did find this quite cruel and unnecessary).

Abbaye aux Dames

This old benedict abbaye in Saintes was originally the first convent in the region. Now it’s the musical hub of Saintes. The Abbaye has a rich history. The impressive building was once one of the most powerful women’s monasteries in the south-west of France and in the French revolution it became a prison and later became a military barracks. Take a walk around the stunning location and head inside for an audio tour and learn more about the remarkable history.

Lunch on a Boat

What better way to enjoy your meal. Take in the views and enjoy true luxury on board Le Batia. You can sit indoors or outdoors and even occasionally enjoy a lunchtime concert while you dine. The boat is air conditioned to ensure your comfort during the toasty Summer months and between July and August the boat is open 7 days a week. Check out their webpage to view the typically French, tasty menu.

Light a Candle at the Cathedral Saint Pierre de Saintes

The former roman catholic cathedral is most well known for its bell tower which dominates the Saintes skyline. The bell tower which is covered by a dome was supposed to have featured a tall stone spire which would have increased its height by around 38 meters. However, due to its historical past in the War of the religions, the Saintes cathedral was left damaged and unfinished. If you are into French architecture then definitely take a look inside and explore the wide range of styles.

Relive Christmas in a Cosy Coffee Shop

Now, I’m not sure if this little coffee shop had intentionally left up their Christmas decorations in February or if this is just how it looked but I loved it! Everything about it reminded me of a warm, cosy, German Christmas shack. Cladded in wood with a Christmas tree and some baubles out front this cafe is a great place to sit and watch the people walk by. And, the coffee’s and hot chocolates are delicious. You can also purchase a wide range of coffee beans inside, great French inspired gift for your loved ones.

Soak up the History

Across the city of Saintes you’ll find plenty of signs with the cities history written on. From the gallic tribes to the roman conquest right to its modern day, the city has a whole host of history to soak up. Head to the tourist office to start your sightseeing tour. From here you’ll discover plenty of monuments like the Germanic Arc, the Archaeological Museum of Saintes and the Abbaye aux Dames. Most of these historical monuments will come with information – but the best way to explore the cities history is via the Little tourist train. Le petit train touristique is around an hour long, runs everyday throughout June till September, and features commentary in both French and English, It’s one of the best things to do in Saintes.

Shops & Markets

Like most quaint French towns Saintes is full of small independent boutiques shops and daily markets. Every day (except Monday) there’s a large open air market. Often held at the Place Saint-Pierre, the markets location changes daily, so keep an eye out for signs to ensure you don’t miss out. During December the city also holds a month long Christmas market too, so if you’re planning a Winter trip – Don’t miss out.

A superb piece of history

We visited with friends in 2016 and returned with our family in 2017. Our grandson thoroughly enjoyed the visit, imagining what might have taken place in the arena.

A little gem outside Saintes. There is lots of parking available, both outside and in side-streets. The shop stocks books and postcards as well as other Roman-related gifts. There is an A4 laminated sheet that explains the site in English. Very worth a visit if you are in the area.

Interesting site to see the scale of the amphitheater. In one tunnel that you can't go very far down it is interesting to see the scale and size of the impressive structure and what was behind the scenes. Shame that this isn't possible to see more of. Bit of a jaunt to get there but relatively cheap to visit.

Went here with 3 children and spent a lovely couple of hours listening to the audio tour and finding little lizards. Nice cold drink in the cafe and a quick browse through the gift shop. Very interesting listening to the audio tour, giving different points of view about the people who would have come to the amphitheatre.

A great visit and a real find, we stayed in Saintes as a half way stop down to the deepest south of France. It's a lovely town and lots of sites of historical interest. The roman amphitheatre is a great place to visit, we walked to it from our hotel which was a great. The site itself is very impressive and worth a visit I do think (yes sorry I'm a bit tight) that 4 euros per person is a bit steep however saying that compared to the UK it's probably a bargain


The Roman town of Saintes which dates back over 2000 years is the capitol of the Santoigne Department in the Poitou-Charentes . It is a delightful town that is easy to navigate on foot. I parked my car in one of the numerous car-parks and walked everywhere. My B&B was only about 2 blocks from the Cathedral of St-Pierre so the location could not have been more perfect.

Saintes is a town with an amazing Gallo-Roman history. Monuments and sites to see range from ancient (40-50 A.D.), to Medieval to present day. I will begin historically with the ancient past and move outward from there.

Gallo-Roman Sites in Saintes

The Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre is my favorite part of the town. Having been to the Coliseum in Rome (which is truly impressive), I still prefer this amphitheater over the Coliseum. It is still used for events today and being able to walk down in to the center and stand where Gauls and Romans once stood in 40-50 A.D. is what speaks to me. Take the lovely shaded footpath beside 54 cours Reverseaux to find this amphitheater which once seated 15,000 people and step back in time to the reign of Claudius in 40 A.D.

Arc of Germanicus

Another Gallo-Roman remain in Saintes is the Arc of Germanicus which served as the gate to the town on the Roman road from Lyon. The Arc now sets proudly on the right side of the river (the cathedral and amphitheater are on the left side of the river). A very short distance from the Arc is the Archeological Museum which young and old alike will enjoy as it is not your typical museum. It is quite small and filled with nothing but large pieces of ancient stonework. Both the Arc and the museum are located on the Esplanade André Malraux.

Saintes Triumphal Arch – Arc of Germanicus

Just to your left in the above photo, amidst the trees, you will find a nice picnic area and a footbridge to take you back over the the Cathedral and city center. By the way, you can see this Cathedral through the arch above!

Bridge over the Charente River, Saintes

Place des Récoletts

You will also discover another piece of Roman history a Place des Récoletts. In 1975 they discovered a piece of the town wall that dates from the 4th century. This wall was built from stones taken from even older buildings. Look for the ornately sculptured blocks that were used as foundation stones.

The ancient Thermal Baths of St Saloine date back to the first century. Follow rue St Vivenne which is adjacent to the Courts complex, past the Church of St Vivien until you arrive at rue des Thermes Romains. A steep up-hill walk greeted me even though it was still June. Having now walked the narrow streets, I hesitate to even consider driving a car through here!

Thermal Baths of St- Saloine

Churches and Cathedral in Saintes

Saint Eutrope

As you walk down the path toward the amphitheater you will see signs on your left directing you up to street level where the church of Saint Eutrope is located. Saint Eutrope Church is designated as a Unesco World Heritage site as part of the pilgrimage “Routes of Santiago de Compostela”. The day I visited there was a neighborhood brocante sale up and down the streets surrounding the church.

Seeking to escape the heat of the afternoon, I slipped in the side door of the church. However, that particular door led to the crypt. Technically the lower church, not the crypt, as two churches constructed on top of each other form Saint Eutrope. Dedicated to the 1st evangelist and martyr in Saintes, the lower church houses the tomb of Saint Eutrope. It was so hot that day that even now when I look at this photo of the crypt I have a sense of being cooled down. The change in temperature between the outside and the crypt was fairly amazing.

Abbaye aux Dames

Located on the right side of the Charente River, the Abbaye aux Dames is the largest example of Saintogne Romanesque architecture. Romanesque architecture is characterized by round arches and vaults. Another characteristic is the substitution of piers for columns along with a profuse use of ornamentation and arcades. The Earl of Anjou founded his monastic order for women in 1047. This was the first religious institution for women in the Santoinge. The famous Sainte Music Festival is held inside the Abbaye along with other cultural events and exhibitions.

Abbaye aux Dames Entrance

Cathedral of St Pierre

The crowning glory of the churches in Saintes is the Cathedral of St Pierre. A regular Saturday market thrives under the shade trees adjacent to the Cathedral. It is easy to navigate using its magnificent bell tower as you wander around Saintes.

Saintes Cathedral, Poitou-Charentes Region France

Saintes is a beautiful town to visit and walk through. It is filled with many more architectural sites than I was able to list here. It is centrally located in this region so you will find many options for day trips away from the town. I highly recommend you take an afternoon to drive the little back roads through the sunflower fields if you are here during July and August. You will not be disappointed!

This map pinpoints all the places I visited . Click on it top open an interactive map in google.


  • Date: 11th January 1961
  • Summary: 1. AIR V..flooded areas of Saintes. 0.06 2. NEARER AIR V..ditto. 0.14 3. AIR V..ditto. 0.19 4. LV Flooded Roman Amphitheatre at Saintes. 0.23 5. NEARER V..ditto. 0.29 6. AIR V..flooded warehouses on river embankments at Cognac. 0.35 7. CU Sign "Visit Cognac and the Brandy Warehouses". 0.39 8. LV Flood water in front of warehouse. 0.45 9. SV Men on raft through gates of warehouse. 0.50 10. LV People in street walking on raised planks. 0.53 11. LV Lorry unloading at Hennessy's Warehouse. 0.57 12. SV PAN..ditto. 1.02 13. GV River Charente in flood. 1.05 14. SV Housewife doing washing in flood water. 1.09. 15. LV Ditto pan to flood water. 1.17 16. SV Boatman manoeuvring boat in flood water. 1.22 Initials TDH/S/AHS/PB Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
  • Embargoed: 26th January 1961 12:00
  • Keywords:
  • Location: SAINTES and COGNAC, FRANCE
  • Country: France
  • Story Text: Gales and continuous rainfall have caused widespread flooding in western and central France. One of the hardest hit regions is the Charente Valley.

Flying over the ancient town of Saintes, our cameraman records the extent of damage caused by the turbulent Charente. The Roman Amphitheatre's arena is submerged beneath two feet of water, farmsteads are marooned, and roads are impassable.

Further along the Charente is Cognac, centre of the Brandy producing industry. This town has also been severely affected by flooding. Fortunately the valuable spirit stocks are not so far affected, although warehouses are partly flooded.

Shackled adult and child skeletons unearthed in ancient Roman necropolis in France

An archaeological team in France has unearthed a Gallo-Roman necropolis in Saintes, France, in which the remains of a group of adults and a child were found with iron shackles around their wrists, ankles, and/or necks. Archaeologists are trying to unravel the story of these individuals’ lives, their origin, and the circumstances of their death.

The excavation of the necropolis, located approximately 250m to the west of the amphitheatre of Saintes, was led by the Institut national de recherches archeologiques preventives (INRAP), and was prompted by the need to locate an area for a new burial ground. Saintes was a regional capital during the period of Roman rule in France, and is famous for its Roman colosseum-style arena, which once held up to 18,000 people.

During the dig, which began last year, they discovered hundreds of graves dating back to the 1 st and 2 nd centuries AD. Many of the graves were double burials, containing individuals buried head to tail in rectangular pits, although one grave was found containing five individuals. Strangely, no grave goods were found in any of the burials, except for one grave belonging to a young child, which was buried with seven vases and two coins over his/her eyes. This was a Roman custom related to the belief that a person’s spirit would leave their body at death and must pay coins to a ferryman that would take them across a river that divided the world of the living and that of the dead.

However, the most surprising discovery was made during the dig between September and November this year, in which archaeologists unearthed four adults and one child with hot riveted iron shackles still attached to either their wrists, ankles and/or necks. Some of the adults were found with multiple shackles and neck ‘bondage collars’, while the child was found with a shackle attached to the left wrist.

Skeleton with Iron bondage collar around the neck. Credit: Frédéric Méténier, Inrap 2014

It is not the first time that ancient remains have been found in shackles. In 2005, archaeologists discovered human remains in York , England, also dating back to the period of Roman occupation. At least one of the skeletons was found with iron shackles still attached to the ankles, alongside his decapitated head. Researchers at the time proposed that the individuals were slaves, criminals, or gladiators. The latter theory is supported by the fact that some of the bones were found with bite marks, suggesting they may have been killed by animals in the gladiator arena.

2 nd century AD skeleton with misplaced skull and heavy lead leg-shackles found in York, England. Credit: York Archaeological Trust

Further research will be carried out on the skeletons in Saintes to determine the status of these individuals, their origin and causes of death, as well as how they might relate to the other people buried within this graveyard.

List of Amphitheatres Throughout the Roman World


Durrës (Dyrrhachium): the largest amphitheatre built in the Balkans. Maps: Roman World


Cherchell, Lambèse, Tébessa, Tipasa


Petronell (Carnuntum): there are two amphitheatres here, one in the military city and one in the civilian city. Military City Maps: Austria | Roman World Civilian City Maps: Austria | Roman World


Sofia (Serdica): remains of an amphitheatre under a city centre hotel. Maps: Bulgaria | Roman World

Hisarya (Diocletianopolis): initially called Augusta, the city was renamed after the Roman emperor Diocletian visited in 293. Maps: Bulgaria | Roman World

Also: Devnya (Marcianopolis), artefacts in the Museum of Mosaics, and Stara Zagora (Augusta Traiana).




Aldborough (Isurium Brigantum): very little remains of this amphitheatre, but a small hill outside the town hides the surviving remains. Maps: England | Roman World

Charterhouse (Roman name uncertain, Vebriacum or Iscalis): the smallest of the known amphitheatres in England. Maps: England | Roman World

Chester (Deva Victrix): a 1st century AD amphitheatre, the largest in Roman Britain, although only partially exposed. Maps: England | Roman World

Chichester (Noviomagus Reginorum): there is nothing to see, an information panel marks the location of the amphitheathre. Maps: England | Roman World

Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum): the 2nd century walls surrounded the second largest city in Roman Britain. Maps: England | Roman World

Dorchester (Durnovaria): the amphitheatre is called the Maumbury Rings. Maps: England | Roman World

London (Londinium): remains of the amphitheatre in the basement of the London Guildhall Art Gallery.Maps: England | Roman World. Further information and visitor details

Richborough (Rutupiae): a major port for the Romans, and the starting point for Watling Street Roman road. Maps: England | Roman World

St Albans (Verulamium): a theatre that was also used as an amphitheatre. Maps: England | Roman World

Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum): a Roman town was built on top of a Late Iron Age oppidum. Maps: England | Roman World

Also: At Caistor St Edmund (Venta Icenorum) there is a possible amphitheatre. At Colchester (Camulodunum) the presence of artefacts depicting gladiatorial combat and a circus (the only one known in Roman Britain) have led some to suggest that there was an amphitheatre here &ndash no evidence of one has yet been found. Also between Frilford and Marcham, near Abingdon, a &lsquosemi amphitheatre&rsquo has been excavated (2001 &ndash 2007) that bears a striking resemblance to those at St Albans, Paris and Lillebonne.


Arles, Besançon, Béziers, Bordeaux, Drevant, Fréjus, Gennes, Grand, Montbouy, Nice, Nîmes, Lillebonne, Lyon, Paris, Périgueux, Poitiers, Saintes, Senlis, Toulouse

Watch the video: Italica Roman Amphitheater. Game of Thrones (January 2022).