Located in the south of France (in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi Pyrenees), Nimes isn’t so popular as Nice or Marseille. Many tourists prefer Cote d’Azur mostly because of the Mediterranean beaches. As for Nimes, it can inspire vacationers much more by its architectural history. The city is about 2000 years old. Moreover, it can still show now a number of ancient objects which are in a very good condition.
Nimes has a stunning Coliseum, called Arena. In Roman times there were bloody gladiator fights. In the VI century, when barbarians have expelled the Romans, the inhabitants of the town reinforced the arcades of the amphitheater with bricks. In this way, they turned the Arena into a fortress, where they could escape from enemy attacks. In the XV century, people began to build within the walls of the Coliseum private houses, shops, workshops. Only in the XIX century, Nîmes Coliseum has been cleared of "spontaneous development" and carefully restored.
Nowadays the ancient Arena combines several functions. Firstly, it is a museum, where you can take an audio guide in one of the different languages and plunge for a few hours into an atmosphere of gladiator fights, wander along the stands and cut circles on the stairs and corridors. Secondly, if you climb higher, you will have a chance to take photos of the city from a nice upper point. Finally, today it is again a kind of theater. The Arena of Nimes is a place for concerts, sporting events and even for bullfights!
That is why you will see a statue of a prominent bullfighter in front of the entrance. By the way, they don’t kill the bulls in the Arena of Nimes. This is the main point why French bullfighting is fundamentally different from the Spanish one.
2. Square House (Maison Carree)
Another great attraction of Roman Nimes is the legendary Square House (Maison Carree). It is just a Roman temple, which is (by an amazing coincidence!) perfectly preserved to our days from I century AD! There is simply no other so well-preserved ancient temple in Europe! In fact, the form of the house is not like a square, but like a rectangle. But they say, that in old French, any rectangle called square (apparently, the French language in the old days was not very friendly with geometry!).
Anyway, the Roman temple has got the official name "Maison Carree" only in the XVIth century. From the IV century, it served as a church, and therefore it was not destroyed. Later, French revolutionaries destroyed churches without any hesitation, but they have chosen the building of the Square House for their stables.
It was only in 1823 that the authorities of the city finally decided to open there a National Museum with an exhibition of Roman art. Fortunately, the horses didn’t possess this beautiful building too long...
3. Garden of The Source
One more miracle of Nimes is Fountain Garden or Garden of The Source. It's full of riddles. The garden appeared during the rule of Louis XV - in the XVIII century. It was the first public garden in France. The place for it wasn’t random. They decided to build a garden around an ancient monument, which for some reason got the name of the Temple of Diana.
- The Temple of Diana.
Scientists declare that it was built in the Ist century BC. However, nobody knows for sure if it was really a temple. Some specialists consider it an imperial sanctuary; others believe that the Romans had there a library, or even a thermae, because it was located near a source.
In the other parts of the garden, tourists can admire a beautiful pond, ancient urns, and statues made of marble and limestone, beautiful fountains, the healing scent of pine trees, cypresses and laurels.
You will enjoy all of these things while climbing up to the Great Tower (Tour Magne).
What you also can enjoy in Nimes is its coat of arms! It represents a crocodile chained to a palm tree! There are many versions why crocodile has become so important for this French town, but most of these versions have a certain connection with Ancient Rome.
In 31 BC, Octavian has won a glorious victory on the coast of Egypt over the fleet of Antony and Cleopatra. Some specialists believe that the mere sight of a crocodile was warming hearts of many veterans of the fights, who came back to Nîmes. Therefore, the "beast" stayed in the city. It is also a fact that at that time there was a minted coin in Nîmes depicting a crocodile chained to a palm tree. Probably, this crocodile personified for the veterans the conquered Egypt. In 1535, King Francis I has officially allowed representing of a crocodile on the city's coat of arms. Now you can see crocodiles everywhere in Nimes. Stuffed crocodiles, made in the XVIII century, are still hanging from the ceiling of the local City Hall. Crocodiles adorn the bronze nail-heads in the pavement.
The fountain with a crocodile is one of the main attractions of Nîmes. If you want to come back to Nîmes some time, you have to touch the crocodile's nose, and your wish will come true, as the locals say.
How to get to Nimes?
There is a small airport in Nimes itself where you can fly by Ryanair. Otherwise, it’s easy to fly to Montpellier (the capital of the region, 53 km from Nimes), or - to Paris and then go further by train.
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