Come and explore the capital of the Gard, around 40 minutes away from Uzès. This historic town has been profoundly marked by the Roman civilisation, shown today by the many ancient sites and monuments, culture and wide variety of events. Come and spend a day in Nîmes with us!
Nîmes, the Roman town
Before starting your exploration, let us just tell you a little bit about the Roman history of the town… In the 6th century BC, a Celtic tribe, the Volcae Arecomici, came to settle around a source which they then turned into a sanctuary: today, this source can be found at the heart of the Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Fountain). Step-by-step, they built the town, named in honour of Nemausus, son of Hercules, and built monuments such as the Tour Magne (Great Tower), which would later become a part of the Roman enclosure.
From the year 120 BC, the Romans began to settle in the town of Nîmes, turning it into a “town of Latin law”. Perfectly located along the Via Domitia, linking Italy and Spain, Nîmes was built by Emperor Augustus, as a town to promote the Roman Empire. A 6-km-long walled enclosure was built around the town and a great number of Roman monuments were built, and are still standing today: the Arena, Maison Carrée, the Temple of Diana, and just a few kilometres away, the Pont du Gard.
Nîmes also has its own coins featuring a crocodile chained to a palm tree, to symbolise the Romans conquering Egypt. If this description sounds familiar, that’s completely normal because this is the crest of the town today.
Other than the town’s development, the Gauls also inherited the Roman culture and way of life, and some even obtained citizenship and a Roman name.
Since 1986, these 2,000 years of history have been classified under the French “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire” (Town of Art of History) label.
Which Roman monuments can you visit in Nîmes?
Now you know a little about the Roman past of the town, let’s go and discover some of the monuments:
- The Tour Magne (Great Tower), on Mont Cavalier, with a breath-taking view of the town and surrounding area;
- The ruins of the Temple of Diana, inside the Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Fountain), which was used as a sanctuary to Augustus;
- The Arena (or Amphitheatre), used for animal fights and gladiator games, welcomes visitors and open-air concerts and shows are held here regularly;
- The Maison Carrée (Square House), built in honour of the two heirs of Augustus, and recognised as the best preserved Roman temple in the world, is also open to visitors. Inside, you can watch a film about the history of the town;
- The Castellum Divisorium, the point where the aqueduct from Uzès arrives in Nîmes;
- The Porte de France and the Porte d’Auguste.
Stroll around the historic centre
Nîmes is famous for its Roman monuments, but the historic centre is also worth a visit. Take a stroll around the narrow streets lined with restaurants and shops. Stop off to admire the thirty-metre-high Tour de l’Horloge, and not too far from there, venture inside the Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor Cathedral, legacy of the rich Gallo-Roman past.
Food lovers, head for the Halles de Nîmes indoor market, where you can discover the local products of the town and meet the local producers.
Walk through the Jardins de la Fontaine
The locals of Nîmes love to walk here. These gardens were created in the 18th and 19th centuries around the town’s founding source, that was worshipped by the very first inhabitants. You’ll enjoy walking around this lush-green place, decorated with Baroque-style sculptures and monumental vases.
Visit the town’s museums
Nîmes is a cultural town and can also be discovered by visiting one of the many museums. You’re sure to find one that interests you!
- The Musée de la Romanité, with its eye-catching glass drapery façade, is devoted to the history of the Roman Empire;
- The Musée du Vieux-Nîmes, inside the ancient 17th-century bishop’s palace, portrays the daily life of the people of Nîmes from the end of the Middle Ages;
- The Musée d’Histoire Naturelle presents three themes to visitors: Prehistory, Ethnography from the 30s and Zoology;
- The Carré d’Art is a contemporary art museum, with a library and media library in the same building;
- The Musée des Beaux-Arts presents a collection of French, Italian, Dutch and Flemish paintings;
- The Musée des Cultures Taurines Claude et Henriette Viallat exhibits art objects and everyday items related to bull traditions which are a key part of the identity of Nîmes.
Enjoy the town’s cultural events
Throughout the year, you’ll be able to attend a wide range of cultural events in Nîmes. Here is a selection:
- The “Ferias” on the weekend of Whit Sunday and the “Feria des Vendanges” in September are two of the town’s unmissable events. Come and see for yourself these huge celebrations with bull races, special events for aficionados, and musical entertainment that bring the town to life;
- The “Festival de Nîmes” is held every year in June and July, with a wide variety of concerts in the magnificent setting of the Arena of Nîmes;
- History buffs are invited to the “Grands Jeux Romains” to come and see some spectacular gladiator games, Roman legionnaire parades and horse racing;
- The “Festival Flamenco”, every year in January;
- The “Jeudis de Nîmes”, a favourite summer event with the locals, where people gather in a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy tapas, listen to musical entertainment in the streets and stroll around the market stalls.
You now have all the information you need for an unforgettable exploration of Nîmes, full of cultural discoveries!