22 July 2017
Yesterday, after writing and swimming, I took a 90-minute train ride north to the high valley above Lausanne. Called the Mittelland, this plateau is a great swath of farmland that stretches between the Jura and the Alpes. I wanted to visit the ruins of a Roman called Aventicum, Avenches. 2000 years ago, it was a city of 20,000, with amphitheater, temples, theatre, baths and forum.
|Amphitheater seats: modern on left, restored original on right.|
My favorite historian of landscape, J.B. Jackson writes about the importance of ruins. Sometimes they are reconstructed as monuments to a lost golden age. I’m not Swiss, so I don’t know what these ruins mean to the Swiss.
Descending from the train, I climbed up to the village. It’s high noon. Arriving at the amphitheater, I found bare-torsoed workmen applying sun-screen and building seats and stage for an August rock concert.
In the museum I admired the replica of the golden bust of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher, who ruled the Empire for two decades in Aventicum’s hay-day.
What do these ruins mean to me? The passage of all Empires? Avenches Tourism provided a map of the ancient city, superimposed on the modern. The purpose of Roman city planning seems clear: the necessities for social order and civic engagement were planted in stone: politics, religion, entertainment and social bathing. Those who participated were shaped by those stones. How many of the Celtic Helvetti, whom the Romans defeated, eventually participated? Who did not participate?