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You will find that the town of Autun grows on you. It is small enough for everything to be easily accessible, yet large enough to have many places of interest to explore. Situated at the southern end of the Morvan Natural Park it is sturdy and dependable like its ramparts, surrounded by open countryside – rivers, lakes, fields and farms. To get in the swing of things, head to the square in front of the cathedral, and on a sunny day, sit and enjoy a café life.
This is a town that basks in its Roman origins. Several of the ancient gateways into the town still exist - Porte d'Arroux, built in the 1st century and Porte St-André, the 4th century gateway. After the Romans conquered Bibracte from the Gauls, Emperor Augustus set up his headquarters here in the 1st century, calling the town Augustodunum. It grew in prosperity, controlling the Agrippa Way along the trade route from Lyon to Boulogne. Augustus built the largest Roman Amphitheatre of its time, seating up to 20,000 spectators and the remains can still be seen today, with summer spectaculars performed there celebrating past glories.
Two more legacies from this era are the Temple of Janus, a sanctuary in a field next to the River Arroux by Porte d'Arroux, and the Couhard Pyramid, a 33 m high burial mound of which little is known.
The next period of greatness occurred in medieval times when stones from the ruined temples and city walls were used to build churches. The cathedral St. Lazare is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture with its sculpted tympanum over the central doorway showing the Last Judgement - the saved and the damned, and the capitals in the chapter house.Climb up the 230 or so steps to the bell tower and you can appreciate the layout of Autun and the glorious countryside surrounding the town.
On the cathedral square is the Rolin Museum. Nicholas Rolin was a lawyer in Autun who, as Duke Philip the Good's chancellor, became exceedingly rich. He is most famous for having built the Hospices de Beaune and the Rolin museum has been set up in his house. Here the 'Temptation of Eve' and other sculptures are on display, attributed to Gislebertus, whose acclaimed work is so prominent in the cathedral.
After so much history, enjoy a drink at Le Lutrin on Place du Terreau by the cathedral where there is a lively atmosphere and regular concerts and exhibitions. Stroll around the cobbled streets and down to the shopping area. Stop at the chocolate shop on Rue St.Saulge - Au Cygne de Montjeu where quality chocolate and pâtisserie will tempt you. Isabelle Laly at 5 Rue St.Saulge has a varied selection of local produce from mustards and oils to snails and honey.
Wednesday and Friday
Places to Visit nearby
- book online
visit the wineries
getting to and from autun
Pam Elson ©burgundytoday.com