Avenches: A Fascinating, Ancient Roman Site in Switzerland

Tourists going to Switzerland for the first time will probably head over to Zermatt, Lucerne, or Interlaken. However, when the Romans stayed in Switzerland thousands of years ago, there was another more important location that is not as well known today – Aventicum.

Despite not being mentioned by travel guides like other places, Avenches is definitely worth a visit.  This once-important Swiss town has ancient Roman ruins, beautiful houses, and medieval architecture.

Avenches

Avenches is a beautiful, medieval town in the canton of Vaud, in the district of Broye-Vully. The town sits on top of a hill in Broye Valley. 

Avenches, in Canton Vaud, is a municipality that used to be a Roman Colony called Aventicum. It was, in fact, the capital of the province. Both the Romans and their predecessors, the Helvetians, made Avenches their capital.

Modern Switzerland used to be part of both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. The Romans established Aventicum as their capital from 15 to 13 BC. At its peak, it had 20,000 inhabitants. This number has dwindled to less than 500 today.

This is a charming medieval village that makes for an interesting and attractive destination for tourists today. Avenches is home to many Swiss Heritage Sites of National Significance such as the Avenches Castle and the Roman Ruins

Heritage Sites of National Significance in Avenches

Image of the Amphitheater by Carole Raddato from flickr

Many structures in Avenches are listed as Swiss Heritage Sites of National Significance. These include the following:

Don’t miss these attractions in Avenches
* Entire town of Avenches
* Roman Ruins of Aventicum
* Avenches Castle
* The Tour de l’éveque (Bishop’s Tower)
* The Amphitheater
* The Cure at Rue du Jura 2
* The Swiss Reformed Church
* The Temple à Donatyre
* Roman Museum – The Roman Museum has a 1.6-kilogram golden bust of the Caesar Marc Aurel as shown below.

There’s no better way to see everything Avenches has to offer than on foot since almost every attraction is within walking distance of each other. Avenches is known for its beautiful buildings and interesting history, which you can see by just strolling around.

The Roman Amphitheater

Avenches has a well-preserved Roman Amphitheater that you can visit. The Roman amphitheater in Aventicum is one of the best-preserved Roman monuments in Switzerland, along with the one in Augusta Raurica (Kaiseraugst). The amphitheater seats up to 12,000 people.

On the site of the Roman theater, excavation campaigns took place in 1998 and 1999. Archeologists studied the monument to see how the Roman theater was built. To restore, enhance, or redevelop the monument, they did a thorough investigation.

Each year, the amphitheater hosts a rock festival called Rock Oz’Arènes and a military tattoo called Avenches Tattoo. It’s common to see military tattoos in the north of Europe and they’re becoming increasingly popular in Switzerland. 

Near the amphitheater are a Roman museum and a few ruins. These ancient Roman ruins are free to see.

Avenches Castle

Image of Avenches Castle by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Avenches Castle used to be the residence of the Bishop of Lausanne before it was turned over to the Bernese. The castle has been renovated several times, particularly between 1565 and 1568.

Roman Museum Avenches

There are lots of historical treasures at the Roman Museum Avenches (Musée romain d’Avenches). Avenches was one of the Roman colonies, and many discoveries have been made here in recent years.

The following are just some examples as documented by the Bulletin De l’Association Pro Aventico.

  • There has also been a discovery of small bronzes and utensils way back in 1837
  • During construction of the Avenches cemetery ring road in 1963, a small drinking cup was found. This was restored by the National Museum in Zurich. The cup was made using a way that dates back to the ancient Minoans. 
  • While excavating in Avenches in the spring of 1967, a depot of 39 bronze fragments was found. These fragments were from life-sized statues found in the area. Several statues made of white or pipe clay have also been found and can be seen at the Musée romain d’Avenches.
  • Coins from the Roman period are found in the Roman museum. Paul-Edmond Schazmann is said to have donated 500 pieces. The most spectacular example is the Contorniate Medallion, an ancient Roman bronze medal issued during the fourth and fifth centuries CE.

Coins, cups, and bronze fragments are just some treasures found in Avenches that point to its importance during the Roman era. All of these and more can be found at the Roman Museum. 


Final Thoughts: Avenches

Rome picked Aventicum as its capital in this province because of its strategic location on the main roads from Lake Geneva. Sadly, Aventicum was destroyed during the wars. While it’s been rebuilt, Avenches nowadays isn’t the same as it was when it was Aventicum. 

Still, Avenches has a lot of standing structures that have been well-preserved and meticulously studied. Besides the places mentioned, it’s also got a prestigious Swiss National Stud Farm. It also has a long sandy beach on the shores of Lake Murten.

While Avenches is just a shadow of what it used to be, it’s still worth a sojourn. Best of all, these sites can be visited for free. 

Resources

  • Furtwängler, Andreas E. Bruchstücke von Grossbronzen in Avenches. Bulletin de l’Association Pro Aventico, 20-1969. Accessed on 6 April 2022.
  • Koenig, Franz E. Ein Kontorniat-Medaillon im Musée Romain. Bulletin de l’Association Pro Aventico, 28 – 1984. Accessed on 7 April 2022.
  • Matter, Georg. Die Sondierungen am römischen Theater, Bulletin de l’Association Pro Aventico, 41-1991. Accessed on 6 April 2022.
  • Rubi, Katrin. Ein neuer Silberbecher aus Avenches. Bulletin de l’Association Pro Aventico, 20-1969. Accessed on 6 April 2022.

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