"For the Roman remains, of course......." Top 5 Page for this destination Nîmes by leics
Nîmes Travel Guide: 237 reviews and 532 photos
Thanks to Ryanair, Nimes is easily accessible from my (very) local airport, so I decided it warranted a visit simply because of its Roman remains.
Pity I took the grey, damp English summer weather with me...but at least it was warm grey dampness in Nimes. And the sun came out for my second day, so that was good.
Nimes is not a huge place (at least, not the historical centre), and really doesn't warrant more than a couple of days' visit at most. I stayed for two nights, and managed to spend a goodly chunk of time in Avignon as well. But it would make a good base for a more general exploration of the region, by car or by train.
It's a busy place, even when lots of the shops etc were closed for the holidays. There were plenty of (mostly French) tourists coming to see the Arenes, the Maison Carre and the Tour Magne but not really a touristy place: no obvious touts, only a very few 'souvenir' shops. Which was good.
What did surprise me, given that it is not somewhere I would have thought of as a major tourist destination, was the number of beggars (some of whom were quite 'in your face'), homeless people and street alcoholics. I just wasn't really expecting that. I'd expect it in Rome or London, of course, not in a smallish French town. But perhaps they have been driven away from the more popular tourist destinations by the authorities?
It was a very important Roman town, a 'colonia' where soldiers who had served the empire were given plots of land on their retirement. The Emperor Augustus made it the provincial capital, with 6km of encircling walls and fourteen towers. There were baths, and shops, and houses and villas, of course, but Nimes' most famous Roman monument is the massive amphitheatre which still stands (albeit much repaired and restored over the centuries). Nowadays it is used for bullfghts (Nimes is very fond of bullfighting) and concerts of various types.
I didn't actually go inside the amphitheatre: the queues were huge whenever I walked past (and Nimes is small enough for me to have done that several times) and, to be honest, there was no real need. The Romans built by the book (literally, in the case of constructing army camps: there really is a book of detailed instructions) so that the inside of this amphitheatre is much the same as that of the Coliseum, except on a slightly smaller scale. I enjoyed circumnavigating the worn and smoke-blackened stones, spotting the 'joins' where Roman original meets with later reconstruction.
Neither did I go inside the Maison Carre, a small (honestly...Roman temples can be much bigger than this) temple to the sons of Agrippa, built around 16 BC. There was a queue, of course, but the inside has been changed so much over the centuries that I preferred to admire the exterior (undergoing restoration and partially concealed).
But I did visit Les Jardins de la Fontaine (which are lovely in themselves, and a most pleasant place to wander on a sunny afternoon) to find the Temple of Diana and the Tour Magne. The former is rather lovely, although much restored: some of the original barrel-vaulting and decorated stones remain. There is no evidence for its dedication, despite the name.
The Tour Magne is indeed magnificent sight, especially after one has climed the paths and steps to its site on top of Mont Cavalier! Originally built around an existing Gallo-Roman tower (of which nothing now remains) the Tour Magne stood 32 metres high (there was a third storey which no longer exists). It's well worth the effort of climbing the (rather vertiginous) modern concrete spiral starcase inside to reach the fairly small exterior platform: the view of Nimes and the surrounding countryside is excellent.
Little remains of Medieval Nimes, other than the central mass of alleyways (you can see some of the Roman town grid-patterned streets too). The cathedral Notre-Dame-et-Castor dates from 11th century (supposedly built on the site of a temple to Augustus) but has been rebuilt, restored and damaged in so many ways over the centuries that its interior is of little interest.
But by wandering the narrow streets, and looking up, some traces of Medieval Nimes can be found: I've made a travelogue of some interesting bits and pieces I saw.
So: a worthwile and interesting place to visit for anyone who is interested in the Romans, and a good base for exploring the area.
O...and it's the place where denim ('de Nimes') cloth was invented. In fact, that's why there are some rather pretty canals (to help with the somewhat erratic water supply for the manufacturing process).
- Pros:Good Roman (and other) parts to explore
- Cons:A bit grubby round the edges
- In a nutshell:For the Roman remains, of course.......
It's well worth making the trek up the hill (Mont Cavalier) from Les Jardins de la Fontaine to the Tour Magne. It's a... more travel advice
Set in the little Place aux Herbes opposite the cathedral, this bar/cafe impressed me with the cheeriness and courtesy... more travel advice
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