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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Can you imagine gladiators fighting in this arena?

Avenches has a population of 4,295.

Before heading to Avenches, we stopped in Murten for lunch. Eyup met us and hugged us both. Tables were full but he told his friend, who was actually sitting “at our table” to leave. He said this man was his brother but with different mothers. Of course, he ordered for us. We love the fresh perch from the lake in a lemon sauce with salted potatoes. He gave me another beautiful gift to keep me safe.

The little town of Avenches is set on the wide Broye Plain in the canton of Vaud, near its border with Fribourg. The gentle rolling hills between the Lakes of Murten and Neuchâtel, the vineyards and the nature reserves are ideal for walking and cycling. Avenches, formerly Aventicum, the capital of Roman Helvetia, boasts a unique heritage from Roman times.

Avenches exudes unmistakable Swiss-French charm. In the center of the little town, with its arcades and many striking facades in Gothic and Renaissance style invite you to pause for a while. The town was very quiet today. It must be their rest day.

This is the first time we visited the church of St. Marie-Madeleine. What a quaint church.

Henri Guisan was a Swiss army officer who held the office of the General of the Swiss Armed Forces during the Second World War. He was he fourth and the most recent man to be appointed to the rarely used Swiss rank of general, and was possibly Switzerland's most famous soldier. He is best remembered for effectively mobilizing the Swiss Armed Forces and Swiss people in order to prepare resistance against a possible invasion by Nazi Germany in 1940. Guisan was voted the fourth-greatest Swiss figure of all time in 2010. His father was a doctor in Avenches.

Stamp for Jacob's Way pilgrimage.

Aventicum, 2000 years ago, was the capital of Roman Helvetia. The Emperor Augustus founded the Roman city of Aventicum on the site of the Helvetian capital and it was to be in its heyday in the 2nd century when it had over 20,000 inhabitants.

The Avenches Tattoo, the only military Tattoo in Western Switzerland is held in the amphitheater. For the last two years the Tattoo has been canceled. I still have my ticket from two years ago and it will still be good in 2022. The Top Secret Drum Corps from Basel performed the year I attended. Their precision drumming is amazing to watch. I can't wait!!! Nearby, a museum can be visited in one of the most beautiful Renaissance palaces in Vaud, built by the Bishop of Lausanne in the 13th century.

The region by the little River Broye, with its many nature reserves and terraced vineyards, offers many opportunities for walking, cycling and water sports. On the way, it is worth sampling some wine from one of the region's growers of the sparkling white wine from Mont Vully.

The roots of Avenches go back to the Celts. A tribe of Helvetians had built a settlement on the hills of Bois de Châtel, south of the later Roman settlement. Nearby the Helvetii seem to have had their capital on Mont Vully as shown in recent archaeological excavation. The canal-La Broye-which joins Lac Morat to Lac Neuchâtel is thought to be Roman in origin.

Mont Vully is to the right.

The establishment of the Roman settlement of Aventicum, which became the capital of the province, took place around 15-13 B.C. The name comes from the Helvetian spring goddess Aventia. After patronage by the emperor Vespasian, Aventicum soon developed into a blooming commercial center with over 20,000 inhabitants. The town was granted colonia status-a retirement location for legionaries- although the built up area of the town occupied only a fraction of the walled area -the walls are some 5.6 kilometers in length. The walls were clearly a statement of status rather than being a practical defensive system. Excavations have revealed the detail of the theatre and major temple complex dedicated to the "genius" of Helvetia-Roman Switzerland. One column of the temple stands as the "cigognier"- formerly a nesting site for storks. Other parts of the city still visible are the amphitheatre which includes a later tower now housing the Professor Hans Bogli museum, the baths, the walls, two of the entrances gates, a smaller temple and part of a place building. Excavated but reburied is much of the Roman city. This part of Switzerland was invaded by the Alamanni tribe in the 280's who settled the German speaking parts of Switzerland giving the area its characteristic dialect of German. Rome never really held the area again and after the fall of Rome in the 5th century, a much smaller settlement was built on the former acropolis of the by now abandoned Roman town. The theatre had a short life as a separate defended area. Throughout this period, the town remained the seat of a bishopric and had at least two churches (Saint-Martin and Saint-Symphorian). When the bishop moved his seat to Lausanne in the sixth century, the decline of the former Roman city was complete.

Entrance where caged animals were kept

Corridor, stairs and gladiators' room

In 1074, the Bishop of Lausanne, Burkhard von Oltigen founded a new city on the site and named it Adventica, which became Avenche in 1518. He built the tower on the edge of the Roman amphitheatre which now houses the museum. In the 11th century, it was surrounded by a wall, and it received city rights in 1259.

A German name for the town did not appear until the 13th century, and it is neither a translation of the Latin, nor a Germanized form of the French. In 1266 the form Wibilsburg appears, and then Wipelspurg (1302), Wibelspurg (1458), Wiblispurg (1476), Wiflispurg (1548), and Wiflisburg (1577). This is derived from the personal name Wibili.

Avenches is first mentioned in 1518 as Avenche.

An airfield was built on the flat land north of the municipality in 1910 where Ernest Failloubaz did the first flight in Switzerland of an aircraft built and flown by Swiss citizen. During World War I, it served as a military airfield. When the military airport in Payerne was built in 1921, the field in Avenches was closed.

Joseph William Mallord Turner made a drawing of the "Cigognier", which shows the old town behind. Archaeology benefited curiously from the first and second world wars when foreigners interned in Switzerland, and local unemployed, were engaged to excavate the main buildings of the Roman city and to renovate and open to the public the theater, "Cigognier" and the gates and one tower of the wall. With the advent of the national highway scheme a program of rescue archaeology was set up under the association "Pro Aventico" under the remarkably capable direction of Professor Hans Bogli, after whom the Roman museum has since been named. Work uncovered a remarkable palace building, much of the center of the Roman town, and outside the walls a canal and roadway leading from the nearby lake and cemeteries and aqueducts outside the line of the Roman walls.

The Roman ruins of Aventicum, Avenches Castle, the Cure at Rue du Jura 2, the Swiss Reformed Church, the Temple à Donatyre and the Tour de l’évêque (Bishops tower) with amphitheater and Roman Museum are listed as Swiss heritage site of national importance. The entire town of Avenches and the Haras fédéral area are part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites.

Excavation of the Roman town began in the 19th century but it was a well-known location in the Grand Tour.

The Grand Tour was the 17th- and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip through Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank (typically accompanied by a chaperone, such as a family member) when they had come of age (about 21 years old).

The custom — which flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transport in the 1840s and was associated with a standard itinerary — served as an educational rite of passage. Though the Grand Tour was primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of other Protestant Northern European nations, and, from the second half of the 18th century, by some South and North Americans.

By the mid-18th century, the Grand Tour had become a regular feature of aristocratic education in Central Europe as well, although it was restricted to the higher nobility. The tradition declined as enthusiasm for neo-classical culture waned, and with the advent of accessible rail and steamship travel—an era in which Thomas Cook made the "Cook's Tour" of early mass tourism a byword.

The primary value of the Grand Tour lay in its exposure to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music.

A Grand Tour could last anywhere from several months to several years. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a ciceronec, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.

In essence, the Grand Tour was neither a scholarly pilgrimage nor a religious one, though a pleasurable stay in Venice and a residence in Rome were essential. Catholic Grand Tourists followed the same routes as Protestant Whigs. Since the 17th century, a tour to such places was also considered essential for budding artists to understand proper painting and sculpture techniques, though the trappings of the Grand Tour—valets and coachmen, perhaps a cook, certainly a "bear-leader” or scholarly guide—were beyond their reach.

The advent of popular guides, such as the book An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings, and Pictures in Italy published in 1722 by Jonathan Richardson and his son Jonathan Richardson the Younger, did much to popularise such trips, and following the artists themselves, the elite considered travel to such centers as necessary rites of passage. For gentlemen, some works of art were essential to demonstrate the breadth and polish they had received from their tour.

After the advent of steam-powered transportation around 1825, the Grand Tour custom continued, but it was of a qualitative difference — cheaper to undertake, safer, easier, open to anyone. During much of the 19th century, most educated young men of privilege undertook the Grand Tour. Germany and Switzerland came to be included in a more broadly defined circuit. Later, it became fashionable for young women as well; a trip to Italy, with a spinster aunt as chaperone was part of the upper-class women's education, as in E.M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View.

British travelers were far from alone on the roads of Europe. On the contrary, from the mid-16th century the grand tour was established as an ideal way to finish off the education of young men in countries such as Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden. In spite of this the bulk of research conducted on the Grand Tour has been on British travelers. Dutch scholar Frank-van Westrienen Anna has made note of this historiographic focus, claiming that the scholarly understanding of the Grand Tour would have been more complex if more comparative studies had been carried out on continental travelers.

Recent scholarship on the Swedish aristocracy has demonstrated that Swedish aristocrats, though being relatively poorer than their British peers, from around 1620 and onward in many ways acted as their British counterparts. After studies at one or two renowned universities, preferably those of Leiden and Heidelberg, the Swedish grand tourists set off to France and Italy, where they spent time in Paris, Rome and Venice and completed the original grand tour on the French countryside. King Gustav III of Sweden made his Grand Tour in 1783–1789.

Interesting to find a Nespresso plant in this small town.

While waiting for the train in Avenches, we met a woman who lives in Murten. Ueli is Austrian but she has lived in Murten for many years. She is a retired schoolteacher. In fact, she lives 3 houses away from the Anatolia Restaurant.

She lost her mask for the train. As we always carry a spare or two in the backpack, we gave her one. She said the next time we are in Murten, she will treat us to a coffee for our kindness.

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