Our Last Day Trip from Avignon - Nimes and A Couple of its Roman Monuments - Aug 9, 2017


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August 9th 2017
Published: February 8th 2018
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Our last day trip from our base in Avignon was to the nearby town of Nimes. We had learned that there were a few monuments of importance here remaining from Roman times. With Avignon being a wonderful hub for public transportation we were able to catch a train out for a day of exploring Nimes. We still have much to learn about the Roman influence in this part of the country of present day France.



Nimes is a city with a long history as it was first settled in the 6th C. BC by a Celtic tribe. In 120 BC the Romans were accepted into the area without any resistance and started to make their presence known by building monuments reaching their peak in the 2nd C. AD. The Visigoths arrived in the 5th C and put an end to the prosperity of this area. During the Middle Ages around the 8th C. AD the population of this area wanted protection and built their homes inside the walls of the amphitheatre that had been built earlier by the Romans. The Roman ramparts were destroyed as the stones from them became the building materials of others. By 1000 AD
The Walk From the Train Station Leading into NimesThe Walk From the Train Station Leading into NimesThe Walk From the Train Station Leading into Nimes

with a nice water feature along the pathway
vineyards, olives and sheep farming had been developed in Nimes which revived the area as well as the building of new city walls for protection from outside forces.



Violence occurred in the 16th C. AD due to the Wars of Religion and Protestants were kept out of public life and instead became traders and the production of cloth led to prosperity of the area again. The story is that denim material and the birth of the blue jeans came from this area as cotton and indigo dye were imported from Italy. They produced a cloth that was strengthened by the weave of at least two threads which was traded extensively. Their “Genoan blue” was anglicized to become “blue jeans”. In the 19th C. Levi Strauss bought some of this material and make it into clothing for miners and gold prospectors due to its strength. Who would have guessed that this would have come from a small area called Nimes, France.



With this rich and long history, it is still the very well preserved Roman monuments that are the draw to the tourists today. When you get off the train you start down a very
A Statute to Represent Nimes with the Maison CarreeA Statute to Represent Nimes with the Maison CarreeA Statute to Represent Nimes with the Maison Carree

as its crown - notice the arena in back
welcoming walkway lined by a lovely water feature. After a short walk you are face to face with a magnificent Roman amphitheatre which was built at the end of the 1st C. AD. One thing that is quite noticeable is that some of the stones had been cleaned and others were left as they were giving you a better idea of what it would have looked like when it was a very active arena during Roman times – very impressive indeed! We had heard that this amphitheatre is one of the best-preserved from the Roman world and is one of the largest in Roman Gaul. It is quite impressive as it is 436 feet long, 331 feet wide and 69 feet high. The audio-guide that we rented at the arena was one of the best we have had in a long time with plenty of detail, well laid out directions of where to go next and was full of stories that brought the place alive for you. An excellent way to learn more about the uses that the Romans made of these monumental arenas. This information will serve us well as we move into the Med and visit other Roman sites.



One of the main messages you walked away with was that the arena was built by the Romans for use by everyone. It did not matter what your status in the community was, you were welcome to view the performances given here. The Romans believed that a large group of poor people could be a threat to their empire so by providing them free entertainment they were kept happy and hopefully would not be interested in undermining the rule of the Romans. An interesting way to control the masses – through entertainment!



Entertainment would last all day and include wild animal fights, chariot races, bullfights and gladiator fights. Animals that were brought in to fight included bears, rhinos, tigers, elephants and even giraffes. Just the thought of all the planning that would have needed to take place to bring these all to Nimes, France is somewhat mind-boggling. There were cages underneath the floor of the arena where the animals would be held and then raised up to enter the arena to fight.



Our knowledge of gladiator fights before coming to Nimes was from what we have seen in the movies
The Nimes Arena Is One of the Best PreservedThe Nimes Arena Is One of the Best PreservedThe Nimes Arena Is One of the Best Preserved

from the Roman Empire - built in the 2nd C. AD
and the image given via Hollywood is that they fought to the death. We found out that this was definitely not true. In fact it also is not true that all gladiators were slaves or criminals. In the early days it was true that many were criminals, but later on as the popularity of the activity rose, some Roman citizens would even give up their freedom to become gladiators in order to become famous and be honored by others as well as earn prize money. Many of these had been soldiers in the war and even senators wanting to be praised for their bravery and skill. They have found many headstones of gladiators that tell of their bravery and important standing in their community.



They did not send 2 gladiators go out into the arena to fight without considering numerous factors. In fact they had gladiator schools that the men (and a few women) had to attend to be trained in the maneuvers necessary to put on a “good show”. They also had a wide variety of armor in which to fight – each one with its own advantages and they were matched with other types of
Part of the Arena Has Been CleanedPart of the Arena Has Been CleanedPart of the Arena Has Been Cleaned

notice the size by the people walking by
armor to be a fair fight. The size of the person and their abilities were also considered when choosing who would fight against each other. These gladiators were highly trained athletes and the better they were, the better the entertainment. They would have referees and when it would get too dangerous the fight would be stopped. Some matches would even end in a stalemate if it became boring or was too long a battle. In many cases if they had put on an exciting show both gladiators would be allowed to leave the arena with honor. Yes, some died from their injuries, but it was not the purpose of these gladiator fights – the idea again was to show off their skills and to entertain. A lot of money went into the training of gladiators with housing and food provided, therefore their promoters didn’t want them killed so training concentrated on how to avoid serious injury but also how to wound their opponent to add excitement to the show. Quite a different story from what Hollywood has portrayed for us. Still nothing that we would be interested in seeing, but it was fascinating to learn all that went into the training, matching of skill levels and type of armor to make the fight as fair as possible.



After Rome fell, the arena was bricked in and transformed into a fortress for protection as this area saw its share of uprisings and was taken over by numerous groups. In the 13th C. after this area became part of France the arena became a gated community with 700 living in homes built within its walls. Finally when Napoleon arrived he decided in 1809 to tear down the dwellings inside the area and return it to its Roman glory and allows us to see it as it was meant to be, an arena for the entertainment of the masses. Today it is still used for bullfights and other shows.



The Maison Carrée is another site worth visiting in Nimes. It is a temple dedicated to Caius and Lucius Caesar who both died young, the adopted grandsons of the Emperor Augustus. We were told that this temple rivals Rome's Pantheon as the most complete and splendid building that survives from the Roman Empire.

A faithful reproduction of the original roof was installed in 1992 and further renovations were
View Inside the Arena Trying to Show Both EndsView Inside the Arena Trying to Show Both EndsView Inside the Arena Trying to Show Both Ends

the bottom photo shows where the VIPs entered
accomplished between 2006 – 2010 dealing with the facades and floors that had been damaged by pollution and frost over the years. Numerous craftsmen which included stone cutters and sculptors put in 44,000 hours to accomplish this wonderful work in order to continue its preservation for years to come. The longevity of the temple has been extended by these renovations and others, but its constant use over the ages was also a positive factor. It has been used as a church, city hall, a private stable, an art gallery after the Revolution and an archives as well as a temple over the years which helped with its survival.



You get a chance to go inside the temple in order to see a movie showing the history of Nimes during Roman times which was very informative, but you find that the inside of the temple is now devoid of any decorations. The outside of the temple is very impressive with its row of Corinthian columns. The temple itself is 86.5 feet by 44.5 feet and rest on a podium that is a little over 9 feet tall making a very impressive statement in the middle of the square. We were told that the design of this temple inspired the design of the State Capitol Building in Richmond, VA.



During the reign of Augustus, Nimes had a population of 60,000 and it has been found that there were numerous other Roman structures, but unfortunately only two of the gates to the city and an aqueduct that brought water to Nimes from the hills to the north of this area still exist. We have seen photos of the aqueduct which seem quite impressive but as this was about 12 miles away we decided not to go there but spend our time in Nimes itself.



The Cathedral in Nimes was consecrated in 1096, but as with all that we have seen it has had numerous modifications over the years. Many of the motifs of the pediments were inspired by the carvings on the Maison Carree and inside you could see numerous painted walls, tiles on the floor and magnificent stone altars.



A day out always gives us an opportunity to have a wonderful meal out and this was no exception with of course a chance to try a new flavor of gelato
Nimes Had a Wonderful Arch System In PlaceNimes Had a Wonderful Arch System In PlaceNimes Had a Wonderful Arch System In Place

that allowed for an easy flow of the people that came
for dessert – this time I tried “lavender” and it was delicious. I had no idea what it would taste like, but once you tried it is was perfect – very light and what you might imagine lavender would be like – nothing I can actually describe but it was perfect! Bob decided to go with a wonderful coffee gelato. All in all a perfect ending to our meal. Eating out in France is definitely spoiling us!



There are numerous other places to visit in Nimes including a new modern contemporary art museum, a bullfighting museum, museum of old Nimes, museum of romanity and the remaining Roman gates, but with the train schedule in hand and our feeling that we didn’t want to overwhelm ourselves with too much in one day, we caught the train back to Avignon. We also know that our plan is to leave Avignon the next morning to make it to our goal for now – Port Napoleon to transform Tsamaya from a river/canal boat into a sailboat again.



It was a wonderful day outing and we were very glad that we stayed around the area long enough to learn more about the Roman influences in this area and visit the excellent examples of Roman architecture.


Additional photos below
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The Costumes Wore By the BullfightersThe Costumes Wore By the Bullfighters
The Costumes Wore By the Bullfighters

only one of many on display
Interesting to Learn that There Were Strict RulesInteresting to Learn that There Were Strict Rules
Interesting to Learn that There Were Strict Rules

for gladiators & they "matched" the armor for a fight
The Arena Was Transformed into a Fortified CityThe Arena Was Transformed into a Fortified City
The Arena Was Transformed into a Fortified City

the map here is what it looked like in 1782
The Maison Carree - a well preserved Roman TempleThe Maison Carree - a well preserved Roman Temple
The Maison Carree - a well preserved Roman Temple

which rivals the Pantheon in Rome as most complete
Not Everything is Old - The MuseuomanityNot Everything is Old - The Museuomanity
Not Everything is Old - The Museuomanity

is just across the street from the Roman Amphitheatre
Always Attracted to These Door KnockersAlways Attracted to These Door Knockers
Always Attracted to These Door Knockers

hadn't seen any in a while, found this in Nimes
Interesting Details Made of MetalInteresting Details Made of Metal
Interesting Details Made of Metal

even as a window treatment
Can't Have a Day Out with Lunch & DessertCan't Have a Day Out with Lunch & Dessert
Can't Have a Day Out with Lunch & Dessert

the gelato flavor was "lavender" - delicious!


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