With its Gothic spire rising against the backdrop of the Morvan hills, Autun is scarcely bigger than the circumference of its walls; most of the enclosure still consists of Roman fortifications that have been maintained through the centuries. The emperor Augustus founded the town in about 10 BC as part of a massive and, ultimately, highly successful campaign to pacify the brooding Celts of defeated Vercingétorix. The splendour of Augustodunum, as it was called, was designed to eclipse the memory of Bibracte, the neighbouring capital of the powerful tribe of the Aedui. Autun did indeed become one of the leading cities of Roman Gaul until it was sacked by the Arabs in 725 AD. Today, it is a picturesque provincial town, and an excellent base for exploring the surrounding countryside, particularly the Parc du Morvan. This town’s past remains very tangible, and two of its four Roman gates survive – Porte St-André, spanning rue de la Croix-Blanche in the northeast, and Porte d’Arroux in the northwest – while a number of other remains are dotted about the town.

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