Nimes City Guide
Welcome to Languedoc's Roman city - Nîmes
You want a completely intact Roman temple from the 4th Century BC? No problem. You want a perfectly preserved Roman amphitheatre right in the centre of the city (so impressive it was used as the setting for the film, Gladiator)? Not only can Nîmes boast both those things, but it’s also just the right size for exploring on foot. Smaller than Montpellier and Toulouse, you can easily get round Nîmes in a day and enjoy the car-free centre of town which oozes charm at every turn. The capital of the still little known départment of the Gard, Nîmes is also an excellent base from which to visit the nearby Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, the Camargue with its pink flamingos and white horses, and even the enticing golden strands of the Mediterranean which lie within a 45 minute drive of the city.
Originally known as Nemausus, the town was a jewel in the Roman crown. The town was laid out in true Roman fashion following a grid pattern and had its drinking water supplied by a 50km long canal (comprising the Pont du Gard). Nîmes’s other major claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of denim, which originally meant “de Nîmes”, or “from Nîmes”. In the early 1900s the town’s merchants exported the cloth to the United States in order to make sails for ships, tarpaulins and workmen’s trousers. In 1870, a Bavarian immigrant by the name of Levi Strauss used this cloth to make trousers for the trailblazers opening up the Wild West – made in Genoa (hence, the origin of the word “jeans”) of “de Nîmes” cloth, one of the world’s best known garments was born.
Nîmes’s Top 5:
- Maison Carré.Dedicated to Emperor Augustus, this Roman temple dates from the fourth or fifth Century BC and is one of the best preserved anywhere in the Roman world. Used over the centuries as horse stables, a meeting chamber and as an archive, today it houses a small museum and bookshop. Sip a coffee atop the Carré d’Art, adjacent, and admire its simplicity of form.
- Les Arènes. Inspired by the Coliseum in Rome with two stories of vaulted arches, this is one of the most intact amphitheatres to be found anywhere in the world today. It has seating capacity for an amazing 20,000 people over 34 tiers and is used for bull fights, pop concerts and sporting fixtures.
- Carré d’Art. Nîmes’s museum of contemporary art sits proudly opposite the Maison Carré. Its glass and chrome façade are the work of British architect, Sir Norman Foster, as part of an ambitious plan by local worthies to regenerate the city.
- Pont du Gard.No visit to Nîmes would be complete without a trip to the Pont du Gard, just 20km or so northeast of the city. The aqueduct was constructed some time during the first century AD to supply the city with fresh water from the Eure river. Three tiers of arches span a jaw-dropping 275m across the Gardon river at a height of 49m.
- Uzès. This medieval market town is a gem. Easily taken in on a round trip from Nîmes also including the Pont du Gard (just 20km away), it’s a place to wander around antique shops and sit in shady squares sipping coffee. Make sure, too, to see the old ducal castle and the Tour Fenestrelle, a local equivalent of Pisa’s Leaning Tower.