Europe Julia Gasper Travel

Nîmes, a Roman City in the Heart of France

A look at Nimes in France by Julia Gasper.

Nimes Arena

The town of Nîmes in Southern France is applying to UNESCO for the status of a World Heritage Site. It well merits this recognition, as it is in every way remarkable. It has some of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings, anywhere in Europe, and unlike most antiquities, are not merely ruins. They are very much standing, and give the town an air of grandeur and distinction.

The first thing you notice when you enter from the direction of the railway station is a straight avenue leading to the massive arena  It dominates the middle of the town and small roads radiate off from it. It is as old as the Colosseum at Rome but so well preserved that it is still regularly used today. The amphitheater inside has raised seating and is big enough for a football match. The stone arches are in some places a bit battered, and some of the decorative busts have crumbled, but with a little ongoing repair and a recent clean, it is really in splendid shape. The town holds all sorts of public entertainments there.

Roman Temple at Nimes

Going a little way northwards you will find the Maison Carrée, a Roman Temple raised on a plinth with all of its original Corinthian columns intact.[pictures 5-6] This was originally dedicated to Emperor Augustus, in the first century when Nîmes became a Roman colony. It gives you a wonderful idea of the imposing yet gracious beauty of a classical building, harmonious and perfectly proportioned. You can walk up the steps, stand in the porch and go inside.

On the eastern side of the town is the Jardins de La Fontaine. This extensive water garden has many fountains, terraces and little canals where swans glide and nest. It was laid out as a public parkin the reign of Louis XV, and offered for the free use of the public. Within the park is another classical building, the Temple of Diana , which is not perfectly preserved but makes a very picturesque ruin. I suspect that this shrine and the other temple were both pre-Roman. Before the Roman Empire took over, the Gauls in this region worshiped their own deities, including a river-god called Nemausus, after whom the town is named.

Tour Magne in Jardins de la Fontaine

Walking on northwards from the gardens, up a steep wooded hill where the pathways are cut with steps, you reach another extraordinary ancient monument. This is the octagonal Tour Magne (Great Tower) a defensive watchtower built in Roman times around an even older Gallic tower. [Pictures 9-10] I have never seen anything to compare with it. If you want to climb its staircase and look out from the top, don’t choose a windy day!

The town of Nîmes was once famous for its textiles. Denim was actually invented there, and its name means “from Nîmes”. It was the birthplace of the writer Alphonse Daudet, whose house is now a museum. There is also a fine art gallery, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which according to our guide book is closed on Sunday afternoons. We rushed over there and were relieved to find that it was open all day and was also free on Sundays.

And what of modern Nîmes? It is a delightful small town with a university, a flourishing café–culture, and lots of independent jolly restaurants in the squares and side streets. Between some of the streets, you can see “traboules” archways leading to sheltered lanes from one street to the other, and there are many enticing small boutiques.

If you would like to support the application of Nîmes to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, follow this link to the website where you can inscribe your name and Email.                http://www.jesoutiensnimes.fr/en/

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