The first time I ever saw the Nîmes arena was on my T.V. watching a Metallica concert. I vowed to visit the city that just happens to have a ‘venue’ like that where they can stage concerts. I wouldn’t have known anything about Metallica if it were not for a Christmas present a few years ago from my father in law, an avid jazz fan, who gave me a Youn Sun Nah album featuring her strange and inspired cover of ‘Enter Sandman’.
Sadly, there was no monster gig happening at the arena this past weekend but the Nîmes Jazz Festival is in full swing right now, for the month of October: visit jazz-festival.nimes-metropole.fr. also if you get a chance, check out Metallica live at Nimes ‘Enter Sandman’ on youtube. You will get an unbelievable view of the arena with the added ambience of primal entertainment!
Nîmes is located in the Gard department, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Cévennes mountains in the eastern part of Occitanie which borders PACA (Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur). Sometimes referred to as the ‘Rome of France’, modern Nîmes is totally different to modern Rome. Exquisite Roman ruins there are, but the wonderful vibrant chaos of Rome is not present in this beautiful southern French city. Nîmes is a smaller, chic, elegant and somewhat orderly city.
Two millennia ago it was one of the most important cities of Roman Gaul, which you will see by the incredible collection of Roman buildings, especially the impressive amphitheatre and a 2000-year-old temple, la Maison Carrée.
The Roman amphitheatre of Nîmes is the best preserved. The arena originally seated 24,000 spectators and staged gladiatorial contests and public executions. You will get an audio guide to accompany you through your visit. The audio guides are fantastic, and you have access pretty much everywhere, including the sand filled ground floor in the centre. Arena means sand in Latin and was there to soak up the blood from the ‘games’. I can’t emphasize enough how I felt the weight of 2000 years of history walking around alone in this amazing place.
view from inside the arena
You can buy a ticket for 17 euros (good for 24 hours) which will grant you access to the Arena, the Museum of Romanity and the Tour Magne as well as a visit to the Maison Carrée where you can watch a short film about how Nimes became Roman, in French with English subtitles.
Nîmes has recently opened the Museum of Romanity, one of the best archaeological museums in the former Languedoc-Roussillon. It is located just across the road from the Amphitheatre, very close to the tourism office. You will see, amongst many other artifacts, amazing mosaics, some of which were discovered not long ago with the construction of a nearby underground parking lot.
The Museum of Romanity, where there is a roof garden for fantastic views of the city.
La Maison Carrée
Built 2000 years ago on a podium dominating the old forum, the Maison Carrée is an exceptionally well preserved Roman temple. Its preservation is due to its conversion to a church in the 4th century, which spared it from the mass destruction of pagan temples that took place in the early years of the Christian era. It has been in near constant use ever since which has ensured its conservation.
La Tour Magne, or Great Tower is the only remnant of the ancient Augustian fortifications. It stands at the highest point of the city, at the top of Mount Cavalier, overlooking the Garden of the Fountains and the entire plain. Originally built to defend the city of Nemausus, capital of a Celtic tribe, the Roman emperor Augustus had it enlarged to demonstrate the power of the Roman Empire.
Les Jardins de la Fontaine, or garden of the fountains, was created in 1745 for King Louis XV at the north end of the city centre, which had once been an important Gallo-Roman place of worship. Strolling about you will see lots of beautiful statues and the ancient Temple of Diana.
We stayed at a little place called Hotel de l’Amphithéâthre which was perfect. Located in the historical centre of the city with large comfortable rooms for less than 100 euros! There was no parking but we were advised to park at the Arena Parking, which we did and this view (below) is what you see as soon as you exit the parking lot. There is no need for a car once you are in Nîmes.
We stopped at various bars and cafés around the city including a stop at the Place aux Herbes. This very unusual and extremely pretty square is just in front of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor. We also had pizza, with a ‘ballon de rouge’ opposite the arena because, well, when in (French) ‘Rome’……
Enjoy your visit to the beautiful city of Nîmes! Please click the link to follow this journal and join me on my journey around Beautiful Occitanie.