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Nimes: a city with a thousand-year history

This article is also available in: Italian

Capital of the Gard department, the city of Nimes (140,000 inhabitants) is located in the northern part of the narrow plain of Lower Languedoc which extends between the Rhone and the Aude, a short distance from the Rhone and a few tens of kilometers from the cities of art such as Arles and Avignon, or from areas of great natural interest such as the Camargue and the Cevennes Natural Park.

Nimes is a city with two thousand years of history, founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC. with the name of Colonia Nemausensis (Nemausus), located along the Via Domitia that connected Rome to Spain, it soon became one of the most important cities in Gaul, rivaling Lyon and Narbonne. Octavian Augustus elected it as the capital of Gallia Narbonensis, the city was surrounded by a 6 km long wall and enriched with the typical buildings of a Roman city of this importance.

The large amphitheater which is still the symbol of the city was built towards the end of the 1st century AD. Nimes was equipped by the Romans with a futuristic aqueduct, of which the majestic Pont du Gard is the most striking testimony remaining to this day.

In the Middle Ages the city lost its importance, and shrank around the Cathedral of Saint-Castor and the Roman amphitheater which was used as a fortress and place of refuge for the population.

The city had a new development starting from the 17th century, thanks to the introduction of the textile industry. The numerous public and private buildings built bear witness to this new period of flourishing. In the 18th century, the bastions of the city walls were demolished, giving Nimes the current appearance.


Thanks to its thousand-year history, Nimes has ancient monuments of great value and excellently preserved, the most important and impressive being the Roman Amphitheater (Arènes de Nîmes), built towards the end of the 1st century AD. It had a capacity of 25,000 spectators and measures 133 meters long and 101 meters wide, its height is 21 meters.

Another Roman monument of great value is the so-called Maison Carrée, a temple built between 2 and 5 AD. in the square of the Forum, and dedicated to the two nephews of Caesar Augustus, who died at a premature age. The temple is excellently preserved, thanks to the fact that it was used as a Christian church starting from the 4th century.

The only remaining tower of the ancient Roman walls is the Tour Magne, a building built between 16 and 15 BC, originally with three floors, of which only two remain, it is today 32 meters high, in the same park as the Tour Magne, that of the Jardins de la Fontaine, there are also the remains of the Temple of Diana, probably a temple from the Augustan era dedicated to the imperial cult.

Of the ancient Roman city walls, 6 km long, two gates remain, the Gate of Auguste (Porte d’Auguste) and the Gate of France (Porte de France) also dating back to 16-15 BC. An important hydraulic work, the final section of the Pont du Gard aqueduct is the Castellum Divisorium, from the 1st century AD, it is a circular basin for sorting and distributing water 5.5 meters in diameter.

Among the city’s medieval buildings are the Romanesque Cathedral (Basilique-cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor) from the 12th century, but rebuilt in the 17th century, and the Chapelle Sainte-Eugénie from the 10th century. Near the cathedral is the Maison Romane, a 12th century civil building full of friezes. Nîmes has many civil buildings and churches from the 17th-19th centuries, among them the neo-Romanesque church of Saint-Paul by Charles-Auguste Questal (19th century), the neo-Gothic churches of Sainte-Perpétue-et-Félicité (19th century) and of Saint-Baudile (19th century), the chapel of the Jesuit convent and the Jesuit College (17th century), the Clock Tower (18th century), the Hôtel de ville (17th-18th century).

In recent years Nimes has also developed an interesting modern architecture with works by famous contemporary architects such as Norman Foster, who created the Carré d’art, a glass work, located near the Maison Carrée, which houses the Museum of Contemporary Art (Musée d ‘Art contemporain) and the library; Jean Nouvel (Nemausus 1, set of social apartments), Finn Geipel and Nicolas Michelin (inflatable canvas membrane amphitheater roof), Philippe Starck (Abribus), Martial Raysse (Place d’Assas), Vittorio Gregotti and Marc Chausse ( Stadio des Costieres), Kisho Kurokawa (Le Colisée).

Among the museums of Nimes, in addition to the aforementioned Museum of Contemporary Art (Musée d’Art contemporain), the Natural History Museum (Muséum d’histoire naturelle) is worth visiting, located in the ancient Jesuit College and dedicated to prehistory, to ethnography and zoology, in the same building there is also the Planetarium and the Archaeological Museum (Musée archéologique de Nîmes), one of the most important in France with collections of Roman and medieval antiquities.

The Museum of Old Nîmes (Musée du Vieux Nîmes) located in the old bishop’s palace, is dedicated to the history, craftsmanship and culture of the city from the end of the Middle Ages onwards. Very interesting is the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts) dedicated to French (J.F. deTroy, Subleyras, Sigalon, Delaroche), Flemish and Dutch (Rubens, Fabritius, Coeke, Duck) and Italian (Bassano, Lelio Orsi, Fontana) painting , Andrea della Robbia) from the 16th-18th centuries, but which also houses a wonderful Roman mosaic (Le mariage d’Admète). Unique in Nimes is the museum dedicated to bullfighting culture and bullfighting (Musée des cultures taurines) from antiquity to today.


This article is also available in: Italian


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