The monumental commemorative structure known as the “Trophée des Alpes” (or Trophy of Augustus) stands above the Principality of Monaco in the village of La Turbie. Erected by Roman Emperor Augustus, it has stayed until today a symbol of Rome’s dominating power in a region which was called Gallia Narbonensis (today’s Provence, Languedoc and the French Alps).
The Tropaeum Alpium (in French: Trophée des Alpes) majestically stands in the commune of La Turbie on the French Riviera. It overlooks the Principality of Monaco and lies 7 kms from the perched village of Èze and 16 kms from Nice.
Due to its gigantic dimensions, the Trophy of Augustus is visible from many viewpoints in the surroundings: La Turbie and Monaco.
The Trophy of Augustus: a bit of history
Waging war in the Alps
A great number of local tribes obstructed the passage of merchants through the mountain passes of the Alps. Their controls and impediment on trade were unacceptable for the Roman Empire which engaged in a long war with the rebellious 44 tribes. The military campaign against the tribes lasted between 16 and 7 BC.
The submission of the Alpine people to the authority of Rome made possible the extension of the Via Aurelia (Rome to Pisa) with the construction of the Via Julia Augusta in 14 BC. The Trophy of Augustus was built on the Via Julia Augusta which was of strategic importance for it linked Rome with many towns situated on the French Riviera, in Provence, Spain and Northern Gaul.
The Tropaeum Alpium’s structure
The monument was commissioned by Roman emperor Augustus to assert and celebrate his definitive victory over the peoples of the Alps. Neither a mausoleum nor a military structure, this notable artefact of the dominating power of Romans was built in 6 BC on a ridge of the mountain at a mansio called Alpis Summa (Alpine Summit). At completion, it used to mark the boundary between Italy and Gallia Narbonensis (which would later be pushed westward to the River Var).
Monuments of this kind were raised throughout the Roman Empire to honour Roman victories. They were often set up on borders or former battlefields. The Tropaeum Alpium in La Turbie also affirmed a strong political message of Romanisation upon the conquered territories.
Also of large proportions, the monument’s remains are only a small part of the original structure. The Tropaeum Alpium built by the Romans originally comprised a rotunda of 24 columns supporting a stepped conical roof topped by a giant statue (possibly of Augustus) reaching a height of 49 metres. Its circumference was of 33 metres. The stones used for its construction were made of white limestone from a local quarry situated only 500 metres away. Here is below a montage showing how the original monument would look like today if the Tropaeum Alpium was not in ruins:
On its base a gigantic inscription showed the names of subjected tribes. The full mention was recorded by Pliny the Elder:
“To the emperor Augustus, son of the deified [Julius Caesar], Pontifex Maximus, in the 14th year of [his]Imperial command (and the 17th of [his]tribunician power, the Roman Senate and people [dedicate this]because under his leadership and auspices, all the Alpine peoples, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea [ie from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian], were submitted to the authority of the Roman People“.
Then followed a long list of 45 Alpine tribes overcome by the Romans that occupied the province later called by the Romans ‘Maritime Alps’.
A monument in ruins
At the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the monument was often damaged by invaders such as the Visigoths and the Vandals.
During the Merovingian era, the Trophy was not much considered by the Christian authorities of the time whom viewed it as a Pagan heritage. Its statues were consequently destroyed by the monks of Lérins Abbey.
During the Middle-Ages, the monument lay in the territory of the House of Savoy and served as a fortress with houses flanked to the surrounding wall. During the War of the Spanish Succession, France declared war on the House of Savoy. When the French troops invaded the County of Nice, the Tropaeum Alpium was dismantled by order of Louis XIV, as were other castles and fortresses in the region (Nice, Èze, Sainte-Agnès). The stones were later used to build houses in La Turbie and the 18th century church Saint-Michel.
Restoration of the Tropaeum Alpium
At the beginning of the 20th century, the monument was partially restored by a team of archaeologists. From the colonnade that once circled the Trophy, only a few columns remain today, giving the monument its peculiar truncated silhouette. Today its height reaches 35 metres.
There is a museum about the Trophy on the grounds which recalls its history and has a model replica of the original monument.
From there is a superb view on Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea.
Tropaeum and Trophy
The imposing monument to the glory of Augustus and to the power of Rome is the only structure of its kind still standing today in Western Europe. The Greek word “tropaion” and Latin “tropaeum” gave the English word “trophy” and the French word “trophée” (of masculine gender).
The centre of La Turbie is often bypassed by tourists although it is quite an interesting village to visit. Rising up to the Roman Trophy, La Turbie contains the typical Provençal features expected of a perched village: narrow paved streets, old houses, arch passages, a Baroque church (built in 1764). Parts of the medieval fortifications (12th-13th centuries) are still visible.
Tête de Chien mountain
Situated in the commune of La Turbie, the Tête de Chien (literally “Dog’s Head”) is an iconic mountain dominating Monaco. Reaching an altitude of 550 m above sea-level, the rocky promontory descends abruptly to the coast where lies the Principality of Monaco. The summit offers a spectacular view reaching from Bordighera in Italy to the Esterel Mountains.
(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs
- Alps = Alpes (f,p)
- Gallia Narbonensis = Gaule narbonnaise (f)
- Gaul = Gaule (f)
- French Alps = Alpes françaises (f,p)
- French Riviera = Côte d’Azur (f)
- House of Savoy = Maison de Savoie (f)
- Maritime Alps = Alpes Maritimes (f,p)
- Mediterranean Sea = Mer Méditerranée (f)
- Middle-Ages = moyen-âge (m)
- monument = monument (m)
- mountain = montagne (f)
- perched village = village perché (m)
- Pliny the Elder = Pline l’Ancien
- principality = principauté (f)
- Roman = Romain (m) / Romaine (f)
- Roman Empire = Empire romain (m)
- Rome = Rome
- tribe = tribu (f)
- Tropaeum Alpium = Trophée des Alpes (m)
- trophy = trophée (m)
- village = village (m)
- war = guerre (f)