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Nîmes has a rich history, dating back to the Roman Empire, and is a popular tourist destination.
Nimes (Gard) mini guide
The city derives its name from that of a spring, Nemausus, in the Roman village. The contemporary symbol and shield of the city of Nîmes includes a crocodile chained to a palm tree with the inscription 'COLNEM', an abbreviation of 'Colonia Nemausus', meaning the 'colony' or 'settlement' of Nemausus. Veterans of the Roman legions who had served Julius Caesar in his Nile campaigns, at the end of fifteen years of soldiering, were given plots of land to cultivate on the plain of Nîmes.
Nimes, the birthplace of denim (serge de Nimes), is best known for its Roman amphitheatre Les Arenes. Twentieth in size, but the best preserved of the 70 surviving amphitheatres of the Roman world, the arena at Nimes (1st century AD) is just a bit smaller than its twin at Arles. Opera, dance and concerts take place throughout July, August and September in the Arena de Nimes.
Then there is best preserved Roman temple anywhere, the graceful little 1st-century BC Maison Carree just off the Via Domitia. Built by the great General Agrippa, who also built the Pantheon in Rome, the temple was dedicated to the imperial cult of Augustus' grandsons, Cauis and Lucius. Known as 'Carree' or square, because of its right angles and long square shape, its cella (cult sanctuary) and the Corinthian columns of the porch are perfectly intact. Nimes always found it useful for something, most notably as the meeting hall of the Consuls and the least notably as a stable. It now houses a small museum which includes a 1st century painting of personnages grotesques discovered in 1992.
Built of stone the colour of old piano keys, Nimes disputes with Arles the title of the ‘Rome of France’. With its new Carre d’Art (1993) designed by Sir Norman Foster, the city also competes for avant-garde cultural supremacy in this corner of France with Montpellier. But what really makes the juices flow in Nimes is bulls: its ferias feature top matadors from France, Spain and Portugal.
Nimes’ great passion is bullfighting, and its ferias are acknowledged and well attended by both amateurs and professionals at the highest level. The wildest and most famous is the Feria de Pentecote, which lasts five days over the Whitsun weekend. A couple of million people crowd into the town. There are corridas, which end with the killing of the bull, courses where cocards are snatched from the bulls head, and semi-amateur courses libres when a small posse of bulls is run through the streets and the daring try to snatch the cocards from their heads.
Two other ferias take place: one at carnival time in February, when the inflatable roof of the Arenes is pulled over for protection from the weather; the other in the third week of September at grape-harvest time, the Feria des Vendanges.
Housed within the Carrée d'Art is the excellent Musée d'Art Contemporain containing an impressive collection of French and Western European art of the last four decades. There is a roof-terrace café at the top, overlooking the Maison Carrée.
In the former bishop's palace, the Musée du Vieux Nîmes has displays of Renaissance furnishings and decor and documents to do with local history.
The Musée Archéologique and Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle housed in a seventeenth-century Jesuit college at 13 boulevard Amiral-Courbet, are full of Roman bits and bobs and stuffed animals. There is another museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, south of the Arènes in rue de la Cité-Foulc which prides itself on a huge Gallo-Roman mosaic showing the Marriage of Admetus.
Three day forfait Museum pass which gives one-time access to the some sites might be a good idea.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing you can do while in Nîmes is head out to the Jardin de la Fontaine, France's first public garden, created in 1750. Behind the formal entrance, where fountains, nymphs and formal trees enclose the so-called Temple of Diana, steps climb the steep wooded slope, adorned with grottoes and nooks and artful streams, to the Tour Magne, a 32-metre tower from Augustus' city walls, with a terrific view out over the surrounding country. At the foot of the slope flows the gloriously green and shady Canal de la Fontaine, built to supplement the rather unsteady supply of water from the fontaine, the Nemausus spring, whose presence in a dry, limestone landscape gave Nimes its existence.
Eating and driniking
The best places to hang out for coffees and drinks are the numerous little squares scattered through the old town: place de la Maison-Carrée, place du Marché, place aux Herbes (breakfast here early at the Café des Beaux-Arts, as the sun is just climbing up behind the cathedral tower). Three classic Nîmes cafés are the Napoléon, in boulevard Victor-Hugo, and the Grande and Petite Bourse, side by side at the back of the Arènes on the corner of boulevard Victor-Hugo. For later in the evening, there's the very pretty Carrée d'Art piano bar on rue Gaston-Bossier, near the canal and the postmodern place d'Assas.
For eating, boulevard de la Libération and boulevard Amiral-Courbet harbour a stock of reasonably priced brasseries and pizzerias, and the squares too are full of possibilities. La Truye qui Filhe, 9 rue Fresque is an attractive self-service, while the Flan Coco, in an unbeatable courtyard setting in passage André-Malraux, 29 rue du Mérier-d'Espagne is also good. Other decent options include the no-nonsense family-run bistro Le Chapon Fin, on place Château-Falaise and the welcoming Paradis du Couvent, while the Zarzuela, 2 rue de Monnaie, serves paella and other tasty Spanish fare. For something a little more extravagant, try La Belle Respire, 12 rue de l'étoile, which serves traditional local food, or Ophélie, 35 rue Fresque offering imaginative terroir dishes.
|Department:||South of France and the Riviera > Languedoc Roussillon > Gard >|
|Location:||Nimes is located in the Gard department in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the southern France|
Nîmes-Arles-Camargue Airport is in Garons, 15 kms from Nîmes.
The railway station is a 5-minute walk from the Roman arena.
Access by motorway:
|Tourist information website:||http://www.ot-nimes.fr/english_nimes/index.php|
|Tourist information switch board number:||+ 33 (0)4 66 58 38 00|
|Tourist information address:||Tourist Office of Nîmes, 6 rue Auguste - 30020 Nîmes cedex, France|
|Quick links to accommodation:||Accommodation near Nimes (Gard) - Hotels in Nimes (Gard)|