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The Nîmes Arenas
The roman aqueduct
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While the Celtic tribe that founded Nîmes gave the locality its name, derived from the god Nemausus, it is most certainly the Romans who left the greatest imprint on the city. Like the rest of Narbonne Gaul, the city underwent Romanizing from the first century B.C. The Romans also had the good intelligence to treat these Gauls as free individuals: some obtained citizenship and a Roman name was bestowed on them. The locale’s former sacred Celtic spring became a sanctuary consecrated to the Emperor Augustus. This master of Rome felt close to the city and its inhabitants. Nîmes or Colonia Augusta Nemausus, ideally situated on the via Domitia road built between Italy and Spain from 118 B.C., was honoured with its very own coin engraved with the abbreviation Col Nem and a crocodile (Egyptian) chained to a palm tree (Roman). They are still entwined on the city’s coat of arms today. Thanks to the Romans, masters at merging the cultures of their occupied lands, the Gauls and future Gardois pursued urban development, road systems, a talent for administration and trade, as well as certain social graces.
Meanwhile, underground, the Romans left behind a surprisingly “hi tech” sanitation system. And in terms of mores, they inculcated this southern Gaul with customs of civil address, forums, and a sense of public-spiritedness. But, as always, it’s the stones that endure. In Nîmes they owe much to Augustus, the city’s own emperor-benefactor. It is under his reign that the Arènes were built. This amphitheatre (133 x 101 metres), a 24,000-seat showplace, is the best preserved arena of all the Roman Empire. Yet another major contribution was the Maison Carrée – not square but rectangular actually, it was the same at the time – the only ancient temple in the world to have maintained near-original condition. The list of Nîmes’ major Rome-inherited monuments is especially impressive: the Tour Magne, the highest point of the city; the Porte Auguste, vestige of the 6 kilometre-long ramparts; the Castellum towards which the waters of the famous Pont du Gard flowed; and the temple of Diana.
Besides a vast road system, the Romans also left the Gard with more modest tokens like the milliarius in Beaucaire, ancient milestones marking the Via Domitia, or else they transformed Celtic hill-forts to their taste such as at Nages, Villevieille or Caesar’s camp in Laudun. These are all relatively modest except for one, the crown jewel of jewels! The Pont du Gard, a listed UNESCO World Humanity Heritage site. This is the kingpin of the aqueduct system that linked the source of the Eure (near Uzès) to Nîmes, from the second half of first century A.D. The Pont du Gard aqueduct breaks all records: less than 13 metres height differential over 52 km in length; 49 metres high, making it the highest in the Roman world; 52 arches on 3 tiers; a nominal flow rate of 400 litres of water per second! It goes without saying that this is a must-see, especially since there’s a top-of-the-line museum on site, enticing for young and old.
To discover more, go to our INTERACTIVE MAP
Hundreds of “actors for-the-day” from the world over convene here every year to grace audiences with a full-scale demonstration of flamboyant Roman civilisation. Frenzied chariot races, meticulous historical re-stagings, gladiator combats and monumental battles, these Great Roman Games are an amazingly stupendous show for the whole family. One weekend in May, the Gard capital drapes itself in togas and enacts multiple ceremonies in homage to its past. All can join in the game, slipping into the shoes of a Roman citizen of ancient Nîmes, seeking high jinks. But don’t forget to talk with the local accent, of course!
On the site of Pont du Gard, La Grande Expo, France’s largest interpretive centre on Roman construction genius relates the story of the Roman aqueduct. Scale models, virtual reconstructions, multimedia screens and atmospheric sound effects will captivate you completely in this exploration of Ancient Rome. An unmissable family outing!
OR...continue your exploration of Gard County