Tag: world heritage

A Bridge To The Past: The Roman History of France Revisited

A visit back to Pont du Gard and Nimes with my guest from the US reminded me how much history is so close to me in the south of France.

Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard

 

Revisit some of the Roman past with a tour to Nimes — one of the key Roman towns in “Gaul” during the days of Augustus.

Here’s why Nimes is a “must” for Roman history lovers

 

Nimes

Nimes

France has so many amazing places to visit it’s hard to decide where to start. If you’re a Roman history buff, you must visit Nimes. It’s a city where you can see, touch and experience life in France during the days of the Roman Empire. Unlike other places with rich Roman history that are now in ruins, there are many artifacts from Augustus Caesar’s time that are in active use still today.

In Nimes you can walk on the same streets, into the same buildings … literally sit in the same seats as the Romans who once occupied this part of Gaul.

Visiting Nimes is more that seeing “remnants” of a Roman civilization. There are intact, still-standing Roman structures. A Roman temple, a Roman arena, a Roman tower. Places that are enjoyed now by real, 21st century people.

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

 

Roman Arena in Nimes

Roman Amphitheater , the Arènes de Nîmes

 

The Magne Tower

The Tour Magne

The Roman History of Nimes

The area that is now Nimes was an established community as early as 400o BC. It was founded as a Roman colony (Colonia Nemausus) by Tiberius Claudius Nero in 45 or 44 B.C. for veterans that had served Julius Caesar under his command in Gaul and the invasion of Egypt. The name “Nemausus” was derived from the name of a Celtic god — the protector of the nearby spring that provided water for the early settlement.

Coin of Nemausus circa 40 BC

Coin of Nemausus circa
40 BC

 

Maison Carrée in Nimes

Maison Carrée in Nimes

As part of the Roman Empire, Nemausus benefitted from great wealth — especially during the reign of Augustus (27BC-14 BC) — and from an era of relative peace, Pax Romana (Roman Peace).  The city reflected its opulence with grand architecture typical of a prosperous Roman colony. Among the most famous, the Maison Carrée was originally a Corinthian temple that dominated the city’s forum.

It is said that Thomas Jefferson became so enamored with the Maison Carrée during a visit to France, as foreign minister to the United States, that he had a clay replica made. He later used the model to design the capitol building of Virginia, his home state.

 

Virginia State Capitol Building in Richmond, VA

Virginia State Capitol Building in Richmond, Va

 

The Arènes de Nimes or the “Amphitheater”

In Roman times, the Arènes de Nimes could hold up to 24,000 spectators spread over 34 rows of terraces.  Divided into four separate areas, each section could be accessed  through hundreds of galleries, stairwells and passages.

Aréna in Nimes

Aréna in Nimes

The amphitheatre was designed for crowd control and ultimate viewing pleasure. There were no bottlenecks when spectators flooded in and all had unrestricted visibility of the entire arena. Several galleries and entrances were located beneath the arena so that animals and gladiators could access the arena during the Roman games.

The “games” included animal hunts with lions, tigers and elephants and gladiator matches. Executions were held, as well, where those in town who were convicted to death were thrown to the animals as punishment.

Inside the Aréna Nimes

Inside the Aréna Nimes

After the times of the Roman Empire, Nimes fell into the hands of the Visigoths, then the Muslims. The Visigoths turned the arena into a fortress or “castrum arena” where the townspeople could gather in the event of an attack. When Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne, captured the city in 752, the splendor that was Nimes was pretty much in ruins. It was not until 1786 that work began to be restore the arena to its original grandeur.

The Tour Magne (Magne Tower) remains a prominent structure in Nimes, erected during the reign of Augustus in 1 BC. It is said to have been built atop an earlier Celtic/Gallic tower from 15BC- 14BC. The tallest structure for miles around, the Tour Magne was used as part of the fortification that surrounded the city. What remains of the tower can be seen from throughout the city.

Along with the Roman buildings that are still in use today in Nimes, there are ruins of the early civilization that visitors can wander through or view.

 

The Porte d’Auguste, part of the fortifications of Nemausus, Nîmes

The Porte d’Auguste, part of the fortifications of Nemausus, Nîmes

 

The so-called Temple of Diana, part of an Augusteum, Nîmes © Carole Raddato

The so-called Temple of Diana, built during the Augustine era
(Photo by Carole Raddato)

Your Walking Tour of Nimes

The downtown area of the Roman city of Nimes is still alive. The most historic Roman monuments are within walking distance. To reach Les Jardin de la Fontaine, you might want to hop on a local bus. Visit the Temple de Diane while you are there. If you climb up to the highest levels of the terraced stairway, through more  gardens, you will reach the park-like area of Mont Cavalier. Further up the hill is the Tour Magne. It’s a hike to reach the tower, but it’s worth it if you want a view of the city from all directions. Take along plenty of water and, perhaps, a snack so that you can stop and enjoy the view along the way. 

Nimes

 

Step by step guide

  • Nimes can be reached by train, bus and car. The train station (GARE) is in the center of the historic area. Regional buses stop behind the train station as well. From the station, a pedestrian promenade leads straight from the station to the amphitheater.
  • Park at any one of the downtown parking lots. Just follow the blue P signs.  Some of the parking is outside and some in a garage. When I visit Nimes I park at the Marché (city market) that is outlined in purple on the map because it is so close to the Maison Carrée.
  • Start your tour at the Maison Carrée. A  20-minute film runs every 30 minutes during tourist season. It’s excellent and it gives you an overview of the history of Nimes. You can buy combination tickets that give you admission to the film, the amphitheater and the Tour Magne.
  • Walk to the Arèna (amphitheater). There are self-guided tours of the amphitheater with headphones and an audio presentation describing the days of gladiators. Stop along the way to the amphitheater, or afterwards, at any of the many cafes and restaurants for a more leisurely visit.
  • Walk past the Porte d’Auguste to view a part of the fortification that protected the ancient city. It’s not a short walk from the amphitheater, but it’s on the way to your next stop.
  • Les Jardin de la Fontaine is a “modern” part of Nimes that has a rich Roman background. It was built in the 18th century atop the ruins of Roman baths (thermal). You can stroll for hours in the garden enjoying the fountains, canals and seasonal plantings.

 

  • Tour Magne is your last stop. The tower is open for tourists (check the schedule) to wander through inside. A very narrow, spiral stairway leads to a viewing area where you can see the city of Nimes from all angles.

Here’s another reason why you must see Nimes

 Nimes blends the “new” with the “ancient”. A modern world among ancient Roman buildings.The Amphitheatre, for example, is the entertainment center used for rock concerts and other popular musical events. 

Times amphitheater is home for huge music events

Roman history reenactments, with all the pomp and ceremony, are staged in the Nimes amphitheater each year.

 

Amphitheater in Nimes

Amphitheater in Nimes

Then there are the Ferias or bull fights in the amphitheater. The events are popular in the south of France still today and draw crowds for the weekend events. 

 

 

Regardless of the time of year you visit Nimes, there’s a party going on. 

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

 

For more information about the arena

Maison Carrée

More places to visit history in Provence

Film trailer of the history of Nimes, on view at the Maison Carrée

 

images-11

 

Off Italy’s Beaten Track: Nova Siri and the Ionian Sea.

All who travel should go somewhere you’ve never heard of at least once in your life. It opens up a whole new world. 

On a month-long tour of southern France and Italy with two of my Carolina friends, we veered off the familiar tourist map and ventured to the southern coast of Italy — to the “instep” of Italy’s boot. We were looking for a beach resort where we could rest from the longest part of our trip and recharge for the next. One of my fellow travelers was a “super duper, double crystal, diamond-crusted, ruby slipper, 24-karat gold medallion member” of a worldwide timeshare group. She said we could use one of her timeshare dates to visit a beach in Italy. She had never been to Europe and she was so excited about being able to use her timeshare points that I hated to tell her the hospitality star rating in Europe might not be up to the U.S. standards.

We chose the four-star Akiris Resort in Nova Siri. Every other beach resort in Italy was booked solid the dates we were traveling.  It didn’t really matter to me about the stars.  I just wanted to dip my toes in the Ionian Sea.

Nova Siri, Italy

Nova Siri, Italy

Along the Way 
No one stumbles upon Nova Siri. Traveling there from Rome meant a two-hour flight to Bari, then a two-hour drive to Nova Siri. Bari is a relatively Bridges_2794580klarge town on the Adriatic Sea. The population is close to 400,000.  Bari gained some small degree of fame from the movie “Bridges of Madison County”. Meryl Streep’s character claimed she “came from Bari.”

We probably should have spent a little time looking around the town, but our driver from the resort was waiting to take us to Nova Siri. Fortunately I have long legs and was given the privilege of riding in the front seat of the Audi taxi. The driver spoke a little English and was happy to answer my questions about his part of the world — the Basicilata region of Italy.

Basilicata covers a large area above the instep of Italy’s boot, with two short stretches of coastline: one on the Ionian Sea and the other on the western, Tyrrhenian shore. It shares borders with the Italian regions of Calabria, Puglia and Campania. Riding through the countryside from Bari to Nova Siri the topography of the land is a mix of mountain ranges, hills and plains.

While we never went directly through mountains, they were ever-present on the horizon. Towns along the way were few and far between. Occasionally we saw a village in the distance. In one area we drove through olive trees that lined both sides of the highway. A little farther down the road,  rows of grapevines stretched as far as you could see. The closer we got to Nova Siri, the more dramatically the scenery changed. Fields of yellow wheat replaced the grapevines. At times it seemed you could touch the wheat shafts as they were so close to the highway.

Akiris: A “Disneyland” on the Ionic Sea
Arriving at our destination in Nova Siri — the Akiris Resort —my Carolina friend with the timeshare points was a bit disappointed when we discovered Akiris was not the “four-star” resort she’d  expected; albeit, she remembered she’d been told the standards might be different.  For example, in our apartment-like dwelling there were three bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room with a sliding door to a patio. The rooms were large but one bedroom had bunk beds. (Guess who ended up with that one? My “friends” figured since I was tall, I could get up on the top bunk if I wanted to.) All the walls were bare.  There were no decorations or lamps anywhere. Just the basic essentials.  “Plush” would not be a word to describe the place, except, to be fair, the towels we rented for the beach were soft and thick. We ended up taking them back and forth to the apartment for our showers.

While the apartment might have been a little bleak, the beach that stretched behind the resort was far from ordinary. With mountains strewn behind the light green sea, it was magnificent.

IMG_1046

Ionian Sea at Nova Siri

Americans in Nova Siri

Americans in Nova Siri

One thing we noticed as soon as we checked in was that no one working at the resort spoke English. I mean no one. It was a family resort for Italians, That’s not to say there were no other Americans there. Like magnets we found each other. There were seven of us from the US and one woman from Germany. She spoke neither English nor Italian. We bonded together like a family. We ate together at the resort dining room and in cafes in the nearby town of Nova Siri Marina. We sat together at the nighttime events and we tried our best to participate in the cruiseship-like, all-Italian entertainment at the resort amphitheater.

 

Mostly we lounged at the beach — exactly what we had come to do.


Some among our group took a side trip away from Nova Siri to visit the town of Matera, known as the film location for Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. This “little piggy” stayed home. The day’s journey to  Matera, would have been interesting  but I was committed to hanging out on the beach as much as possible during our break. Without the tourists.

Places to Visit in Basilicata

Now that I know about Matera, I’m anxious to return to see what I missed. It’s one of the two places that attract travellers to the Basilicata region.  Matera is famous for its cave-dwelling districts, abandoned in the 1950s, that are slowly being brought back to life. In 1993 Matera was included on the Unesco World Heritage list. It is believed to be one of the first human settlements on the penisula — dating from the Palaeolithic period. It was where Mel Gibson filmed “The Passion of Christ.”  

 Maratea, the second most popular village in Basilicata, is on the Tyrrhenian coast in the far west part of the country. Situated high between the mountains and the sea, Maratea is connected to the rest of the country by modest highways and a railway line that runs through the town. It is especially popular with travelers who enjoy a slow-paced holiday in a place that  has remained virtually unchanged through the years.

Both Matera and Maratea fit my requirements for “off-the-beaten track” locations to visit. With all the world to see, however, I doubt I’ll return to Nova Siri. I’ll always remember it, though, for the friendships …  and the dip in the Ionian Sea.

Ionian Sea

Ionian Sea

 

 

 

 

Off Italy’s Beaten Track: Nova Siri and the Ionian Sea.

All who travel should go somewhere you’ve never heard of at least once in your life. It opens up a whole new world. 

On a month-long tour of southern France and Italy with two of my Carolina friends, we veered off the familiar tourist map and ventured to the southern coast of Italy — to the “instep” of Italy’s boot. We were looking for a beach resort where we could rest from the longest part of our trip and recharge for the next. One of my fellow travelers was a “super duper, double crystal, diamond-crusted, ruby slipper, 24-karat gold medallion member” of a worldwide timeshare group. She said we could use one of her timeshare dates to visit a beach in Italy. She had never been to Europe and she was so excited about being able to use her timeshare points that I hated to tell her the hospitality star rating in Europe might not be up to the U.S. standards.

We chose the four-star Akiris Resort in Nova Siri. Every other beach resort in Italy was booked solid the dates we were traveling.  It didn’t really matter to me about the stars.  I just wanted to dip my toes in the Ionian Sea.

Nova Siri, Italy

Nova Siri, Italy

Along the Way 
No one stumbles upon Nova Siri. Traveling there from Rome meant a two-hour flight to Bari, then a two-hour drive to Nova Siri. Bari is a relatively Bridges_2794580klarge town on the Adriatic Sea. The population is close to 400,000.  Bari gained some small degree of fame from the movie “Bridges of Madison County”. Meryl Streep’s character claimed she “came from Bari.”

We probably should have spent a little time looking around the town, but our driver from the resort was waiting to take us to Nova Siri. Fortunately I have long legs and was given the privilege of riding in the front seat of the Audi taxi. The driver spoke a little English and was happy to answer my questions about his part of the world — the Basicilata region of Italy.

Basilicata covers a large area above the instep of Italy’s boot, with two short stretches of coastline: one on the Ionian Sea and the other on the western, Tyrrhenian shore. It shares borders with the Italian regions of Calabria, Puglia and Campania. Riding through the countryside from Bari to Nova Siri the topography of the land is a mix of mountain ranges, hills and plains.

While we never went directly through mountains, they were ever-present on the horizon. Towns along the way were few and far between. Occasionally we saw a village in the distance. In one area we drove through olive trees that lined both sides of the highway. A little farther down the road,  rows of grapevines stretched as far as you could see. The closer we got to Nova Siri, the more dramatically the scenery changed. Fields of yellow wheat replaced the grapevines. At times it seemed you could touch the wheat shafts as they were so close to the highway.

Akiris: A “Disneyland” on the Ionic Sea
Arriving at our destination in Nova Siri — the Akiris Resort —my Carolina friend with the timeshare points was a bit disappointed when we discovered Akiris was not the “four-star” resort she’d  expected; albeit, she remembered she’d been told the standards might be different.  For example, in our apartment-like dwelling there were three bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room with a sliding door to a patio. The rooms were large but one bedroom had bunk beds. (Guess who ended up with that one? My “friends” figured since I was tall, I could get up on the top bunk if I wanted to.) All the walls were bare.  There were no decorations or lamps anywhere. Just the basic essentials.  “Plush” would not be a word to describe the place, except, to be fair, the towels we rented for the beach were soft and thick. We ended up taking them back and forth to the apartment for our showers.

While the apartment might have been a little bleak, the beach that stretched behind the resort was far from ordinary. With mountains strewn behind the light green sea, it was magnificent.

IMG_1046

Ionian Sea at Nova Siri

Americans in Nova Siri

Americans in Nova Siri

One thing we noticed as soon as we checked in was that no one working at the resort spoke English. I mean no one. It was a family resort for Italians, That’s not to say there were no other Americans there. Like magnets we found each other. There were seven of us from the US and one woman from Germany. She spoke neither English nor Italian. We bonded together like a family. We ate together at the resort dining room and in cafes in the nearby town of Nova Siri Marina. We sat together at the nighttime events and we tried our best to participate in the cruiseship-like, all-Italian entertainment at the resort amphitheater.

 

Mostly we lounged at the beach — exactly what we had come to do.


Some among our group took a side trip away from Nova Siri to visit the town of Matera, known as the film location for Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. This “little piggy” stayed home. The day’s journey to  Matera, would have been interesting  but I was committed to hanging out on the beach as much as possible during our break. Without the tourists.

Places to Visit in Basilicata

Now that I know about Matera, I’m anxious to return to see what I missed. It’s one of the two places that attract travellers to the Basilicata region.  Matera is famous for its cave-dwelling districts, abandoned in the 1950s, that are slowly being brought back to life. In 1993 Matera was included on the Unesco World Heritage list. It is believed to be one of the first human settlements on the penisula — dating from the Palaeolithic period. It was where Mel Gibson filmed “The Passion of Christ.”  

 Maratea, the second most popular village in Basilicata, is on the Tyrrhenian coast in the far west part of the country. Situated high between the mountains and the sea, Maratea is connected to the rest of the country by modest highways and a railway line that runs through the town. It is especially popular with travelers who enjoy a slow-paced holiday in a place that  has remained virtually unchanged through the years.

Both Matera and Maratea fit my requirements for “off-the-beaten track” locations to visit. With all the world to see, however, I doubt I’ll return to Nova Siri. I’ll always remember it, though, for the friendships …  and the dip in the Ionian Sea.

Ionian Sea

Ionian Sea

 

 

 

 

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