Nîmes, the most Roman city outside Italy

The city of Nîmes is a true opportunity to enjoy a nice weekend or bank holiday in a Mediterranean atmosphere with a history of over 2,000 years. As capital of the department of Gard, it is one of those medium-sized cities (approximately 150,000 inhabitants) that is great for tourism and where the rich heritage rivals its atmosphere, which is lively and cheerful every day of the year. Fancy a getaway? Our AVE (high-speed) France trains, AVE (high-speed) International travelling between Spain and France will take you in the most comfortable and sustainable way to France in only three hours. Hop on one now!

During the times of Emperor Augustus and afterwards, Roman successors built monuments all over Nîmes, many of which are still in very good condition today and which can be found in the heart of the city. Below are seven must-see examples of Roman heritage:​ 

1. The Roman amphitheatre or the Arena of Nîmes

The amphitheatre was built at the end of the first century, and is one of the biggest Roman amphitheatres in the world, with a length of 133 metres and a width of 101 metres, as well as a height of 21 metres, with two levels of 60 arches each. This is one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world and is still used for sporting events, congresses, concerts and bullfights; currently, it can seat up to 20,000 people. In fact, the Nîmes Fair is one of the most important in the region and can be compared for its grandeur and importance to the best and most important bullfighting fairs in Spain. There are two main events: Pentecost, held in May, and the harvest festivities, held in September. Near the amphitheatre, visitors can find a Bullfighting Culture Museum (6, rue Alexandre Ducros).  

2. Maison Carrée  

The Maison Carrée (Square House) is a magnificent temple with a rectangular base, built to resemble the temples of Apollo and Mars in Rome. However, unlike other similar temples, it has been fully restored, since it has been in use uninterruptedly since the eleventh century for many different uses, from a consular house to stables, in addition to being used as a department archive or church. This is a way to contemplate the harmony of Roman architecture, with its perfect proportions. Built between 16 and 12 BC, it dominated the Roman city's forum. It is 26 metres long by 15 metres wide and 17 metres high. It was last restored between 2006 and 2010. 

Visitors will find that the film Nemausus, the birth of Nîmes is played inside every 30 minutes, which explains how the city was born during the pre-Roman era around a sacred fountain that paid tribute to Deus Nemausus, the patron god of Nîmes, which was also adopted by the Romans. 

3. Porte d'Arles and Porte d'Auguste

Roman Emperor Augustus offered Nîmes one of the largest enclosures of the Roman Gaul. The city's two entrance gates are preserved from that era. The Porte d'Arles or Porte d'Auguste were crossed by Via Domitia and are made up of two central arches for the passage of vehicles, in addition to another two other smaller side arches for pedestrians. There were two towers on each side, but sadly these disappeared over time. The Porte de France or Porte d'Espagne has a single semi-circular arch crowned with a blind gallery and is decorated with Tuscan pilasters. It also used to have two towers on the sides.  

4. The Castellum

Found to the north of the city, near the university campus, it was the entrance to the aqueduct of Nîmes and supplied water to the entire city. This rare construction has a circular basin shape and is carved in rock, with a diameter of 5.9 metres and a depth of 1.4 metres. Lead pipes would supply water across the city's corners, which allowed Nîmes to develop into a prestigious city, perfectly adapted to the Roman lifestyle. There is only another one in a similar state of conservation in the world, found in Pompeii.  

5. Jardins de la Fontaine

The origin of Nîmes dates back to the sixth century BC, when a Celtic tribe settled around a fountain that they deified, consecrating a sanctuary, which was later used by Roman legions for this same purpose. These gardens were built in the eighteenth century and are one of the first public gardens in Europe, built near the fountain enclave (hence its name). The gardens have a surface area of 15 hectares and are found on a hill in the city centre. Designed in the French style, the gardens are packed with vases and marble statues with plants on the top, which were planted during the nineteenth century, using traditional Mediterranean species, such as pines, cypresses, oaks or laurels. This is a very popular place of leisure for Nîmes' inhabitants. 

However, when the gardens were being built, an old Roman site was found, which had been abandoned since the Middle Ages. Among the archaeological remains found are two Roman jewels, the Tour Magne and the Temple of Diana

6. The Tour Magne

This tower was built on a Roman road, right on the entrance to the city and the imperial sanctuary. It is for this reason that it was the highest and most prestigious inside the walls. It had three levels on a plinth. The top floor has disappeared, but it is still 32 metres high. It can be accessed from the top to enjoy one of the best views of Nîmes.  

7. The Temple of Diana

An enigmatic temple associated with the Roman imperial sanctuary and the purpose for which it was built is yet to be discovered. It featured side corridors that led to an upper floor. It was used between the sixteenth and sixteenth centuries as the church of a Benedictine monastery. Currently, only a barrel-vaulted nave remains, but it is a romantic spot of Jardin de la Fontaine.  

8. Pont du Gard

The Romans created a 50 km long aqueduct to supply water to the city of Nîmes. The most important construction of the entire route is Pont du Gard, a 275-metre long and 48-metre high bridge with three levels of overlapping arches that spans across the Valleys of the Gardons. It is the highest in the Roman world and was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. 

It is found 25 km away from Nîmes and can be reached on Edgard's bus line B-21 (45 minutes) from Nîmes train station. 

Travel to Nîmes by train

If, in addition to travelling to Nîmes, you are interested in following your own route, we invite you to visit other equally impressive cities connected by our AVE (high-speed) International trains travelling between Spain and France thanks to the many combinations of our destinations: from Perpignan, Narbonne, Béziers, Montpellier, ​Avignon, Aix-en-Provence or Lyon​; always from city centre to city centre. 

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