Forty hours on a Romanian bus, or 80 days on a Roman road, Part 2: France and Italy

The road from Barcelona to Nice

What might have been seen from the bus, if it were daytime… and the bus were somehow flying over the coastline. Photo by Ioan Sameli via Wikimedia Commons.

The sun set as the Saiz Tour transport for Timisoara rolled out of Barcelona, passing cemeteries and monuments commemorating great saints. The temperature, up in the 30s during the day, had descended to about 23 degrees Celsius as the bus rolled onto the motorway north.

On the bus out of Madrid, I had been paired in seat arrangements with an older man who was on his way home alone; this was the result of my being asked to move so that a couple could be together on the stretch to Barcelona. I again sat with him on the long run to Romania, pleased that I had someone familiar to sit with. But of course the first few hours did not involve much talking or gesticulating, it involved sleep.

I awoke only when we reached the first rest stop in France, about 43 kilometers west of Montpelier. My feet stumbled into the store, where the bathrooms awaited, and my eyes regained focus while my head found balance in the midst of shopping aisles where the language was clearly not Spanish. I caught site of a view that made me smile, a dinner placemat with the genealogy of the Kings of France, very simplified, but easy enough to follow so that in my semi-conscious state I could pick out the first three monarchs, the ones that a branch of my family supposedly descend from. The last time I was in Europe, such a placemat would mean little, as my family hadn’t traced its ancestry past the early 1800s, and definitely only within the United States.

After another few hours on the road, a similar wake up in the dark took place outside of Nice, the last stop within France. From here, the bus would take us into the Riviera and eastward, ever eastward toward Romania.

The road from Barcino to Nicaea

The goddess Nike, namesake for Nicaea (present Nice), as depicted in a statuette found in Vani, Republic of Georgia. Photo by Epiq via Wikimedia Commons.

The Via Augustus left Barcino northward past the small collection of villages called Emporiae on the way to Narbo, the great southern capital of Roman Gaulia. It was from Narbo that Julius Ceasar quelled a rebellion supporting Pompey at Massillia, present Marseilles, and awarded the capital of the Roman Seventh Province (Septem Provinciae, otherwise known as the Diocese of Gallia Viennensis) to that loyalist city. Arelate (present Arles) likewise gained privileges by opposing Massillia in this important struggle.

Gallia Narbonensis Province, covering almost the entire southern coast of France, was split in two with the creation of the Gallia Viennensis Province, a stretch of the Rhone valley that connected Lake Geneva with Masillia and Arelate. During Roman times, both Arelate and Narbo enjoyed ship access to the sea. Both have since watched their waterways silt up, leaving only the former pro-Pompey rebels in Marseilles with a port.

Arelate’s apex came just before the great barbarian invasion of 409, with Emperors Constantine I and II bestowing great honors on it. In 408, in a move that would trigger the barbarian invasion, the usurper Constantine III established his capital in Arelate. He would fall some three years later after the arrival of the Visigoths in the region. Despite constant war with the Arian Goths, pro-Catholic Arles would survive Saracen invasions and other forms of devastation to eventually become a favorite place of painter Vincent van Gogh.  “Starry Night over the Rhone” would be painted there before his eccentricities led him to be committed at the Saint-Paul asylum in nearby St-Remy-de-Provence.

Nicaea, the final city in ancient Gaul on the Via Augustus road to the Italia Annonaria Diocese, was the port city for the Alpes Maritimae Province. It had been founded after the Greeks had secured the coastline from the Ligurians, and its name was actually based on that of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike.  During Roman times, present Nice was two cities, the ancient Greek town, and the newer Roman Cemenelum (present Cimiez district in Nice), the latter of which was finally reduced when the Lombards invaded northern Italy in the middle of the sixth century. During the Arab invasion of France, the city was on the front lines between the Genoese League and the invaders, and only managed to secure itself against the Muslims in the 900s, after the fight shifted further west during the Spanish Reconquista.

The road from Nice to Aqullea

The ships park in the harbor, and off the coast too. The route above the city passes through tunnels in the hills in the background. Photo by Mgimelfarb via Wikimedia Commons.

The Saiz Tour bus heading through Italy left Nice just as dawn broke, and ascended into the many tunnels that connect the French city with the bypass above Monaco. However, despite not going past the famed Monte Carlo Casino, the roadway still passed inside the northern edge of the Principality, and at certain points, the view from the window clearly showed the many super-yachts parked off the micro-state’s coast. It took about 12 minutes to go from border to border on the way to Menton (once a part of Monaco until the 1861 treaty that finally defined today’s boundary between the two states).

The bus eventually descended and crossed into Italy at San Remo. A huge cave oversees the toll station at the border, where the road begins to follow along the coast. Unfortunately at this point, the plan to live on only water resulted in a need to sleep, which I did through much of Lombardy, waking up only at Cremona.

After Cremona, a baby boy a couple seats ahead, perhaps all of 18 months, took notice of me. He seemed to handle the lack of ventilation much better than me, and was altogether one of the brighter spots in the expedition.

Dropping again to sleep, I woke as the bus passed by the ancient city of Aquileia, sometime around 1:30 p.m. My glasses had fallen to the floor, but when I picked them up, they appeared intact and without too many scratches. Above the bus, the clouds were building toward what appeared to be an afternoon storm. Before too long, the Saiz Tour bus would cross into Slovenia.

The road from Nicaea to Aquileia

Roman columns set against a more modern tower in Aquileia, on the way toward the Slovene border. Photo by Zumzum via Wikimedia Commons.

The coast of the Alpes Maritimae Province during Roman times was not particularly well-populated. Beyond Nicaea, the first noteworthy locale was described by Virgil as “that castled cliff, Monoecus by the sea,” or present Monaco. Legend has it that Hercules drove away everyone from the Rock of Monaco and set out for a life of solitude there when the Greeks first settled the Riviera coastline. Julius Caesar passed through the Greek settlement when he left his Gallic Wars to campaign in Greece. It was part of Odoacer’s briefly-held Kingdom of Italy, the successor state to the Roman Empire after the barbarian conquered what was left of it, until the Ostrogoth leader Theodoric the Great overwhelmed his forces in a five-year war and killed him with his bare hands, ultimately establishing a new Gothic kingdom in the Empire’s remnants in 493. Seven centuries later, the Rock would be taken by the Grimaldi family, who created the present principality.

Beyond this rocky coastline, the traveler on the Via Augustus headed eastward into the Alpes Cottiae Province of the Italia Annonaria Diocese of the late Roman Empire. Administered from Genua (present Genoa), this Ligurian reach represented the non-Adriatic coast of northern Italy. From the port of Genua, travelers would head inland through Dertona to Mediolanum, present day Milan, the principal city of Italia Annonaria Diocese, and of course the provincial capital of Liguria et Aemilia.

An ancient Celtic city, Mediolanum fell early to Rome in 222 B.C. Emperor Diocletian established it as his western capital in the year 293, a task performed while never leaving his eastern palace in Nicomedia. Twenty years after this persecutor of Christians came to power, Emperor Constantine I issued an edict from this city guaranteeing freedom of worship for the same persecuted sect. A century later, it would lose its capital status when the Visigoths laid siege to it. A half century later, the Huns would overrun the city. In 539, the Ostrogoths would destroy the city, but it would not remain merely a ruin for long. By 569, the Lombards would conquer what was left of the ancient capital. Finally, Charlemagne would take the city in 774, establishing himself there as “King of the Lombards” as well as Emperor of the Romans. The successor states to his regime would include France, a briefly surviving Kingdom of Italy (based from Milan), and the Germanic Holy Roman Empire.

To the west of Mediolanum along another ancient Roman road that extended down the Po River valley, the city of Cremona marked the frontier between Liguria and the province of Venetia et Histria. This city was once the first Roman outpost north of the Po River, and became a major city along the Via Postuma, the road between Genua and Aquileia. However, its fortunes fell after the Second Battle of Bedriacum, and the city became something of a backwater until the Lombards invaded in the sixth century. After Lombard King Agilulf destroyed the city, it was rebuilt by Queen Theodelinda as a religious center, and has ever since avoided such destruction.

Beyond Cremona, the traveler on the Via Postuma passed Mantua and Verona on the way to Patavium, the nearest city to the marshy lagoons that would later become Venice. Indeed, the church of San Giacomo was said to have been dedicated at the stroke of noon on March 25, 421, at the High Shore of the lagoon of Venice (the Rivoalto, or Rialto). The church catered mostly to refugees who settled along its shores, the original inhabitants of what would become one of the world’s most iconic cities.

Further east from the site of future Venice lived the loyalist tribe of the Veneti, who as allies of Rome faced its early enemies, the Carni and Histri, in the second century B.C. In order to protect their ally, the Romans constructed in 181 B.C. a fortified colony that they called Aquileia not far from the Adriatic Sea coast at a site that invaders from Gaul, allied with enemies of the Veneti, had attempted to build on two years earlier.

The Via Postuma was extended from Bologna to Aquileia eight years later, and after another four years, a group of Latin colonists reinforced the fledgling Roman settlement in the center of Veneti territory. Shortly after Roman legions built the Via Popilia from Rimini to this Illyrian frontier settlement, gold was discovered north of Veneti territory in present Klagenfurt, adding that resource to the trade in amber that the Veneti traditionally enjoyed with tribes closer to the Baltic Sea. Aquileia would become a major junction for Roman roads heading north and eastward over the coming centuries.

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