Autun

FRANCE BURGUNDY SAONNE ET LOIRE autun vue d'ensembleAutun (pop 16,800) was once a bustling Roman city called Augustodunam. Founded by Augustus in 10 BC, the city was part of the expanding Roman Empire which took over the area from the Celts of Vercingétorix. Autun was heavily guarded by ramparts and gates and well serviced by a good system of aqueducts as well as an amphitheatre. The remnants of this ancient civilization survived the barbarian attacks of the 3th century AD. After a period of dormancy, the city rose to prominence again during the Middle Ages with the construction of its cathedral. These days however, Autun has lost much of its past political importance and spends most of its time as a historic tourist destination; and a base for those exploring the southern side of the Morvan Regional Park.

Layout
The old city area is set around the hilly section that surrounds the Cathedral St-Lazare at the southern end of town. The commercial district lies north of this and is bound by avenue Charles de Gaulle, rue St-Saluge and rue des Cordeliers. You can arrive at Autun via trains or buses at avenue de la République, northwest of town.
 

 

 


Autun's two historical hotspot moments are its Roman era and the 17th -18th centuries.

FRANCE BURGUNDY SAONNE ET LOIRE Roman templeMost of Autun’s Roman remnants lie scattered along the borders of the town. The northwestern part of Autun, a few metres north of the train station, is a home to a farmland area that is the site of the Temple de Janus  [www.temple-de-janus.net/]. Unfortunately, time has eroded most of the temple down to two 24m tall walls that still manage to spark one’s imagination of the kind of worship that was once carried out here. This temple was wrongly associated with the Roman god of Janus for a very long time, when in fact, the temple was in fact a Celtic sacred ground.

If you head southeast to the ramparts that protect Autun, you will arrive at one of the four original gates that were constructed in Augustodunum, during the reign of Constantine- the Porte d’Arroux which holds up four arches and built without the use of mortar; and the similar-looking Porte St-Andre at the east of this gate. If you head south of the Porte St-Andre, along the town borders, you will arrive at the Théâtre Romaine.  The atmospheric ruins of this ancient amphitheatre give you a taste of the old Roman entertainment field that was once filled with drama and adrenaline. The enormous theatre was designed with a capacity of 16,000. Make your way south of the theatre and you will arrive at the Pierre de Couhard (Rock of Couhard)- a partially ruined pyramid.  So, the Egyptians were not the only ones who did pyramids! This is one of a handful of Roman pyramids unearthed by archeologists and stands at a height of 27m. Like its Egyptian cousins, it is believed to be a tomb.

FRANCE BURGUNDY SAONNE ET LOIRE Autun Last Judgement by GislebertusMost of the 17th to 18th century attractions of Autun are located in the heart of the town, spreading northwards from the St-Lazare Cathedral [Place du Terreau]. It began life as a pilgrimage church housing the relics of Saint Lazarus, from the 12th century. The building was upgraded to become a cathedral only later, sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries, as it began attracting a faithful group of pilgrims. The cathedral is recognised as having an eclectic mix of both Gothic and Romanesque features. While a significant portion of the exterior has been replaced or renewed with Gothic elements, most of the interior still preserves the old Romanesque carvings. These days, the cathedral garners attention for its spire, and
12th century sculptures by Romanesque sculptor Gislebertus. These sculptures can be found all around the cathedral; most notably at the west tympanum which contains his vivid Last Judgement. There is also a Renaissance fountain, the Fontaine St-Lazare, which is situated right beside the cathedral.

Head slightly further up and you will arrive at an imposing circular structure. Erected in 1854, this building is simply known as the old prison [
rue des Bance] and it has lost none of its charm, as it was functioning well into the 1950s.
This prison stands adjacent to the Musée Rolin [3 rue des Bances, +33 385520976 www.autun.com/ ad/ch €5.15/Free]- an informative museum that is housed in an old Renaissance hotel named after the architect, Nicolas Rolin. This museum sheathes a broad collection of works and artefacts ranging from fine arts to archaeology. Notable displays include the Gallo-Roman artefacts, the 12th century sculpture of Eve by Gislebertus and the 15th century Autun Virgin, by Maître de Moulins.

A quiet, northbound stroll from here, will allow you to sight the rest of the old buildings in the heart of Autun, such as the Église Notre Dame [rue Saintt-Sauige] dating back to 1757 and the old Jesuit college next door, Lycée Joseph Bonaparte where Napoléon and his brothers were educated.

 

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AUTUN:   1. Tourist office  2. Train station  3. Hôtel de Ville  4. Temple de Janus  5. Porte d’Arroux  6. Porte St-Andre  7. Théâtre Romaine  8. Pierre de Couhard  9. St-Lazare Cathedral  10.old prison  11. Musée Rolin  12. Église Notre Dame  13. Lycée Joseph Bonaparte