A thirty-minute train ride south out of Lyon brings you to a bend in the Rhone, the left bank of which anchors little Vienne, a town of 30,000 people or so. While it isn’t a large and influential town today, it was a rather big deal in Roman times. Vienne became a Roman colony around 40 A.D. and the town is still full of some surprisingly well preserved Roman structures, starting with the Temple of Augustus and Livia, built from 20 to 10 BC as a part of the forum. The temple’s re-use as a church kept it reasonably intact and now you can see it right in the heart of Vienne—but you can’t go inside.
Bits of a Roman road and other architectural features can be seen as you stroll around Vienne’s historic center. Vienne is surrounded by five hills, you can climb one—preferably Le Mont Pipet right above the Roman Theater—for a great view of the town.
Other attractions you might find interesting are the Museum of Fine Arts and Archæology, the Archæological Garden of Cybele, and the Cathedral of Saint-Maurice.
But something new has appeared on Vienne’s Roman horizon. Archaeologists are calling the new site, Sainte-Colombe, “a little Pompeii”. It’s such an extraordinary discovery that they’ve managed to delay a large housing project.
Many of the objects in place when the inhabitants fled were conserved, transforming the area into a “real little Pompeii in Vienne”, according to Clement, referring to the Roman city-state that was largely preserved after being buried by volcanic ash.
Among the structures to have partly survived are an imposing home dubbed the Bacchanalian House after a tiled floor depicting a procession of maenads (female followers of the god of wine, known variably as Dionysus or Bacchus) and joyful half-man, half-goat creatures known as satyrs. ~ Archaeologists uncover ‘little Pompeii’ in southeast France
Planning a Trip to Vienne
While Vienne makes an interesting one or two day trip, it can also be done as a day trip from Lyon. If you wish to travel further south from Vienne and like wine and ancient traditional vineyards you can see from the train line, we suggest you stop at Tournon and visit the vineyards of Croze-Hermitage.
For wine lovers, the vineyards of the Côte-Rotie are about 5km from Vienne.
When to Go? See Vienne Weather and Climate Charts.
You can find several highly rated hotels in Vienne.