Gardens and Gladiators in Nimes France took me back to Miss Clegg’s Latin class in high school.
Some of you reading this story remember Miss Clegg. Or you had a teacher like Miss Clegg. She never knew that I had English translations of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey and Virgil’si Aeneid, loaned to me by my beloved Aunt Edna.
I still have nightmares that Miss Clegg discovers my secret and I get an “F” in Latin and I never graduate from high school.
Nimes (pronounced “Neem”) dates back to the first century BC and was named for the Celtic God Nemausus. It was created as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar who gave land in Nimes to his soldiers after they served 15 years in the army, During the rule of Augustus, Nimes was a prosperous city and boasted a population of 60,000 citizens.
Another landmark is the Amphitheater that dates back to the 2nd century BC.. Both the Amphitheater and Maison Carrée are in a huge area in the center of town that is designated as a historic district. The sides of the district are bounded by four boulevards. It takes about 25 minutes to walk the circumstance of the area– if you don’t stop.
I bought the Gran Tour ticket to visit 3 sites for 11 euro ($14.50). It included a self-guided audio tour of the Amphitheater (or Arena), a 3D video in Maison Carrée, and entry to The Tour Magne for a panoramic view of the city.
Seeing the stately Maison Carrée, formally a Roman temple, truly made me feel I was in Rome, not France. The 3D video production, shown almost every hour during the day, told of the heroes of Nimes who lived through the various ages of the city.
La Madeleine in Paris was modeled after the Maison Carrée, as was the Virginia statehouse in the US, designed by Thomas Jefferson It is said that Jefferson was so taken by the beauty of the Maison Carrée when visiting Nimes as Minister to France, that he wrote his friend Madame de Tessé: “Here I am, madam, gazing whole hours at the Maison Carrée like a lover at his mistress.”
Today it is one of the most well-preserved temples from the Roman Empire to be found anywhere.
The Amphitheater, also called the Arena, is one of the ten best-preserved Roman arenas in the world. Currently, it is being renovated, but even now, the space is being used for public events. A stage was being erected while I was there for an upcoming rock concert. The Arena accommodates up to 25,000 people. An audio guide was available and it was quite worthwhile. You can walk into the arena, sit in the stands, and relive stories of gladiators and lion slayers.
Le Tour Magne
The Tour Magne stands on the highest spot in Nimes and can be seen for miles around. It is all that remains of the Wall that surrounded the city built by Augustus. To take full advantage of my Gran Tour ticket, I walked to the top of the hill, then up the spiral staircase to the top of Tour Magne. It’s one of those things I can cross off my list and say, “Whew!! Don’t have to do that again!” The view was amazing. The walk? Let’s just say that’s why I ate pizza when I returned to Uzes. I earned it!
Jardins de la Fontaine
One of the most enjoyable parts of the walk to the top of Tour Magne is that to get there, you walk through the Jardins de la Fontaine, considered by many the most beautiful gardens in the world. As I was on the path up the hills winding through the garden, I thought to myself how wonderful it must be to live near such a place.
The people of Nimes and visitors were out by the hundreds today, enjoying the perfect weather and well-maintained property. Like other tourist areas I’ve seen on my trip, the place was immaculate– from the trimmed shrubbery to the stone stairways.
A city of two worlds
One of my most striking impressions of Nimes is how two worlds — the ancient and modern– are coexisting in such harmony. The rock poster on the Amphitheater says it all.