Ancient Nemosus was a city located on the Via Domitia, the first Roman road built in Gaul. Now, hundreds of years after the fall of Rome, the monument from the 1st century is intact. The extraordinary amphitheater is still used as a stadium for the festival, and the Maison Carrée is a temple façade as complete as the former Roman territory.
Venture to the Pont du Gard to further conquer Nimes, part of the stunning aqueduct that supplies the city with water 50 km away, and find the many other ancient ruins scattered around this exciting city.
Fun fact: Did you know that the word “Denim” (De Nîmes) comes from this textile center and has been made in Nîmes since the Middle Ages?
Let’s explore the best things to do in Nimes:
1. Les Arenas
The Roman amphitheatre in Nimes has proudly stood the test of 2,000 years and looks perfect for its age.
The arena is still used for festivities and concerts, and the six-day bullfighting is a solemn sight every May during the Nimes Fair.
During the tour, you can enjoy yourself as even the stairwell and galleries are impressively configured and allow 24,000 spectators to enter and exit in minutes without risking being crushed.
From the outside, near the entrance, you can see the carved bull’s head above the upper arch.
2. Maison Carrée
Maison Carrée is a fine example of Vitruvian architecture, the integrity of which is almost unparalleled in the pre-Roman world.
It’s been around for over 2000 years, and the only sign of the years is a bit of weathering on the marvellous porch pillars.
The temple is dedicated to Gaius and Lucius Caesar, two grandsons of Emperor Augustus, who died young.
Over the next 20th century it became a house, granary, church and the tomb of Antoine de Crussol, Duke of Uzès in the 16th century.
All these features help keep the temple together for a long time.
To enter, you have to pass through a magnificent doorway almost seven meters high, where there is a small, modest room where a movie about the ancient Nemausus is being shown.
3. Jardins de la Fontaine
The park could not be more magnificent than these 18th century gardens, which surround the water source established in the old Nîmes.
There are palatial balustrades, wide staircases, statues and marble vases, as well as exciting Roman monuments that we will visit later.
When the Jardins de la Fontaine opened in 1745, it was one of the first parks in Europe, after attempts to channel natural springs led to the discovery of a temple and theatre dedicated to Augustus.
Come and discover more Roman finds and recharge on trails with cedars and buckeyes.
4. Temple of Diane
Almost hidden behind a pine forest on the west side of the Jardins de la Fontaine is the ruins of a room with a long barrel vault that collapsed centuries ago.
Flanked by passageways, the walls are covered with centuries-old graffiti, and the main room contains professionally carved fragments of stonework.
The site is known as the “Temple of Diana”, although the exact purpose of the building is unclear – it may have been a library.
Just by the entrance, there is a plaque telling you the story of the site since the Middle Ages and how it was destroyed by fire in the early modern period.
5. La Tour Magne
In its heyday, the tower at the top of Jardins de la Fontaine would soar to 32 meters, dwarfing all other buildings in the city (it is now 18 meters, which is high enough!). The tower is all that remains of the fortifications built during the reign of Emperor Augustus in 15 BC. From its pedestal at the highest point of Nemausus, it will be an important beacon and watchtower controlling the plain.
You can enter to read an explanatory panel about its Celtic origins, then climb the stairs to the viewpoint at 18 meters, where a display shows you what the panorama looked like 2000 years ago.
6. Museum of Fine Arts
Languedoc-Roussillon’s second largest fine arts museum is a treasure trove of French, Italian, Flemish and Dutch paintings from the 1500s to the 1800s.
The museum was established in 1821, initially in the Maison Carrée, before arriving in 1907 in this specially constructed hall on Rue de la Cité Foulc. If you just need the headlines, head to Rubens’ Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Paul de la Roche.
Then you can admire the largest mosaic in Nimes, measuring 8.80 m x 5.94 m, depicting the “Marriage of Admetus”. This is followed by a beautiful glazed terracotta medallion of the Virgin and Child by the Renaissance sculptor Andrea della Robbia.
7. Art House
After Nimes was hit by floods in 1988, the city decided to revitalize the squares around the Maison Carrée and build libraries and spaces for modern art.
Norman Foster won the architectural competition with his steel, concrete and glass creation just across the road from the temple.
Although it has nine floors, the building’s silhouette is subtle as the lower floors are all underground.
The gallery hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists, as well as a collection of 480 works, and the permanent exhibition is updated every year.
Come and join 20th century movements from southern France and the Mediterranean, such as Neorealism and Italian Arte Povera.
8. Garde Bridge
The magnificent building spanning the Gardin River is 20 kilometers from Nimes and is part of the infrastructure of the ancient city.
The aqueduct draws water from the Fontaine d’Eure around the plateau north of Nimes, forming a 50-kilometer crescent.
The Pont du Gard is the most stunning part, almost 50 meters high, with three levels of arches.
Despite the impressive size of the aqueduct, the gradient from one side of the Pont du Gard to the other, 275 meters away, differs by only 2.5 centimeters.
9. Castellum Divisorium
Behind the railings of Rue de la Lampeze is something you can only see in two places in the world: Pompeii and this place.
It may not look like much, but the information panel will tell you that this is the terminus of the Nemausus Aqueduct.
Incredibly, water would travel 50 kilometers to reach this location.
Ten holes can still be seen in the structure, which will be fastened to lead pipes supplying water to public fountains, facilities and homes, providing this privilege.
10. Les Halles de Nimes
You can tell a lot about the French city from the stalls in its covered market.
You’ll be blown away by the lavish display of local produce, in Nimes, where choline olives and fish such as snapper or oysters are caught overnight and sold from the fishmongers’ counter hours later.
But since much of the city is shopping at Les Halles, you can see the locals live in a way you can’t see in more tourist spots.
Bring an appetite too, as there is a selection of gastronomic bars for lunch serving local dishes such as brandy, casseroles and even paella.
11. Nimes Cathedral
The cathedral is a record of Nimes’ turbulent history, and as long as you see the exterior from the west, you know it was punished a lot in that era.
There has been a religious building here since the Temple of Augustus in ancient Rome, with the northwest tower and some arches on the façade dating from the 1100s.
They both survived the French Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, so the rest of the building has a 19th-century neo-Gothic design, while the interior has been overhauled in a neo-Byzantine style.
Stop to see the organ inside, which dates back to 1643, has a carved buffet, and is protected as a French Historic Monument.
12. Place auxiliary herbs
If you study the façade of the cathedral, you can see a row of holes overhead on the left side of the portal; these were made by medieval market sellers who would fasten their stalls to the wall.
Place aux Herbes is also where the darkest moments of Nimes took place during the French Wars of Religion, most notoriously the massacre of Catholic priests and monks during the Milad Huguenot riot in 1567. This sparked the Second Religious War.
But now, instead of religious bloodletting, you can chat on café terraces, hang out around flea markets, and enjoy glacier ice cream.
13. Charles de Gaulle Esplanade
Just next door to the amphitheater is a beautiful open space, trimmed with plane trees and hackberry, and decorated with marble Fontaine Pradier.
Added in 1851, the fountain is an allegory for the city and region.
The woman on the pedestal represents Nimes, as Maison Carrée is on her head (Roman style), while the four figures below represent each of the main bodies of water in the region: the spring of Nimes, the River Gardin, the River Eure ( by the aqueduct to Nimes) and the Rhone.
After that little geography lesson, you can stop at a café on the north side of Esplanade, or take a stately stroll along one of the avenues under hackberry and plane trees.
14. The Roman Gate
The Via Domitia Roman road goes directly through Porta Auguste on the way to Cadiz, Spain, thus connecting the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula with Rome.
There are two arches in the middle, originally intended for road traffic such as horse-drawn carriages, and on either side of these arches are two smaller openings for people on foot.
If you look down, you will see the marked locations of the two towers that defended the portal two thousand years ago.
The less conspicuous Porte de France, south of Nimes, has an arch above the road and a blind porch (posts and lintel without openings) at the top.
Brandade, the signature dish of Nimes, is an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil, served with potatoes or bread.
This is a warm winter dish usually cooked in a pastry pie.
Choline olives are a local staple and can be eaten raw as a snack and drink.
They make a delicious olive oil that is the main ingredient in tapenade, a tapenade with anchovies and herbs that goes well with crusty bread.
For a satisfying traditional meal, Gardiane de taurea is a red wine stew made of slow-cooked bull beef, served with rice and black olives.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Nimes, France
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