Nîmes- A French city dressed in a Roman costume.
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
Begining of November. Autumn starts manifesting its moody temper. I would like to take you to a journey with me, to a city I visited at the beginning of September- Nîmes.
Summer back then, was still the ruler and the days were wonderfully warm and long( with some short rain intervals).
"Let's meet at la Maison Carrée" -(The square house) wrote me Veronique Allen, the head manager of the Press Tourism of Nimes.
What does it mean "La Maison Carrée? I was intrigued.
Before I explain to you, I would like to share with you my first impression of Nîmes.
I walked up the large, elegant avenue starting from the train station when suddenly appeared the massive Roman Arena.
Before going to Nimes, the images of this ancient place amazed me. Is this monument as old as it looks? Is it being really in Nîmes and not in Rome?
As if it was a surrealistic dream in a middle of a French town.
Some t.v series about the vigorous Roman Empire have captivated me from childhood: Conspiracy and manipulative relationships. Blood and cruelty, passionate love as the aspiration for sublime beauty, fused together. All the right ingredients to create a theatrical drama.
It seemed intensively lustful and violent at the same time. Bigger than life.
There is proof that this world existed and not only in fantasy. Nîmes took me with its enigmatic story to the heart of ancient Roman history.
I entered inside this enormous theater. It is one of the best-conserved Arenas in the world, before the coliseum in Rome. I sat as one of the spectators who was about to watch a show, listening to the explanations of my guide Cecile Coustès, on the rituals that used to take place more than 2000 years ago in this place: Chasing wild animals, executing prisoners, and the gladiator's battles. I have started to imagine the death sentence that the defeated gladiator received in front of the impassioned audience. Cecile reassured me that they didn't kill them so often as there was quite a lot of money invested in each gladiator.
Nowadays, the Arena serves more to the corrida feast: " La Feria", the Spanish-style bullfighting festival which happens every year in the city.
Outside the Arena. A tribute to one of the most famous matadors of Nîmes - Nimeno (his stage- name). Even though I would not be capable of watching bullfighting, the images of that man, with an appearance of a flamenco dancer dressed in a traditional costume, moved me.
It is hard to leave this iconic theater. Its tremendous power makes you feel protected while you are nearby.
I continued walking in Nîmes, and just a few meters away, here I was, entering intimate alleys and narrow pedestrian lanes. The sweet French patisseries and boulangeries were opposing the fierce Roman Empire that I left behind. Did I really?
La Maison Carrée
I thought about a modest house, shaped in a square, but I was in front of a giant white Roman Temple. La Maison Carrée was built between the year 10 BC and the year 4. It was dedicated from Caesar Augustus to his grandchildren Gallus and Lucius. It reflects power and stability and makes you discern how Roman history is apparent in Nîmes structure.
You can watch inside the "Maison Carrée" a movie: "Nemausus" which will tell you about the origin of this temple and the history of the Romans in Nimes. (It lasts 23 minutes)
Le Jardin de la Fontaine
I strolled in a path that felt like a royal one, with a water crown at the end, towards "Le Jardin de la Fontaine" The landscape has changed into a soft and green nature as a theater decoration. The sun has shown up all of a sudden and the light was sparkling.
Nîmes can be proud not only of having extraordinary Roman ancient sites but also of one unique wonderful garden.
"I love to spend here hours, even half a day," told me Cecile.
I could thoroughly understand it.
This garden's beauty is beyond words. It is poetic and inspiring , starting from the exquisite taste of the Romans. They have discovered a divine spring inside a pool, which has been described as the birthplace of Nîmes
Later, Louis 15 ordered to build this magnificent garden according to his refined taste.
It molds on the hill, up you reach the ancient site from the Romans' time- The Tour Magne.
I climbed in the Tour, till the top flour, to capture Nimes from above.
There is another prominent site in the gardens- The Temple of Diana.
Even if you have seen tunes of gardens in your life, this one is particularly marvelous. The original plants: the exotic Mediterranean from pins to oaks, the various flowers, along with the statues and the fountains, magnetized me. If I had more time to stay in Nîmes I would have returned there every day, to read a book or simply just relax in this beautiful landscape. I also had a fresh ice cream in the garden's Café to complete this savory experience.
Musée de la Romanité
What I love in art is the old but also the courage to take a risk. - Daring to mix classical and new in an unconventional way. One of the unusual buildings in Nîmes which raised some controversy is the ultra-modern building facade of the Museum de la Romanité placed in front of the ancient Roman Arena.
The Museum itself takes you on a journey in time to the Roman Empire. It has a collection of statues and objects found in archaeological digs in Nîmes and its surroundings, from the Roman's times and from the Middle Ages. It is unimaginable the number of treasures that are displayed there. I observed all these phenomenal artworks with admiration. They completed in my mind the whole Roman vision with the Arena and the Maison Carrée that I have seen before. It made the experience incredibly alive.
You have to spend at this Museum at least a good few hours. Time just flew by :with the Romans, it is never boring !
In the evening I would recommend sitting in the elegant restaurant. "La table du 2" is located on the roof of the Museum de la Romanité. You have the possibility in summer to sit outside and enjoy the panoramic view of the Arena. It is a modern, gastronomic version of French cuisine. Original and very delicate and tasty. The atmosphere is relaxed and intimate.
I was delighted to find how Nîmes offered so many attractions. I walked in the picturesque streets, which led me to beautiful private villas.
They are discreet, and some of them are closed, so it would be good if you booked a city tour with Nîmes Tourism office. The guide has the keys to these locked doors, and you discover pretty patios with statues and sculptures and artistic staircases .
The houses tinted in pastel tones give you the feeling of space and brightness. They create harmony with the Roman flair in the city.
I have reached one of the most famous squares in Nîmes. " la place du marché "
You can see the crocodile in the fountain, next to a tall palm tree. It symbolizes the conquest of Egypt by the Caesar. Augustus's victory over Mark- Antony and Cleopatra.
Nîmes is a historic city with some unusual stories.
In the 19th century it started to produce an important textile industry. In The Museum of
the old Nimes- " Le Musée du Vieux Nîmes"
you will see elegant, designed salons, clothes and accessories from previous centuries: The Serge of Nîmes This most resistant fabric was first created in Nîmes and then exported to the USA and has turned to be the famous Jeans.
I want to recommend a great Bistrot in the city with a sort of humorous name " Le Bistrot de tatie Agnes",(the Bistrot of Auntie Agnes)
When you meet the owner, you are not surprised
" Please don't write about us, I have enough work, I would like to have more vacations," he told me with a huge smile and laughing eyes.
He wasn't maybe kidding because at lunch time it was pretty hard to find a place in that vibrant -good spirit restaurant.
I had a plate with various sorts of freshly made salads and the traditional Nîmes paste -la brandade de morue. It's like a salt mash cod's flesh with garlic, olive oil, and a touch of milk or cream. It accompanied the dish, super delicious. The Bistort has one of these good old French vibes that will make you even more falling in love with Nîmes charm.
Walking at night in the heart of the city center was enjoyable too. The quiet narrow streets were so calm and peaceful. Nîmes was enveloped with a nighty atmosphere and the streetlights added to this cinematic ambiance.
They say that all the roads lead to Rome, one can add, and to its French sister-Nîmes ( after all it is the honorable French Rome)
The Café Colombus is one of the first coffee chaines opened in France that has served good, quality coffee.
However i have never seen it so glamorously dressed as in Nimes. Located near the Arena. In a city which caught a Caesar's heart, it is impossible to go below the aristocratic standards.
Appart'city hotel is where I stayed the night. It doesn't look at all like an appartement but rather like an old preserved magnificent building built in the Roman's style.
It is located close to the arena and the musée de la Romanité in the center of the city
Text and Photos