Exploring Roman Ruins in Nimes

By Kayla Camenzind

While visiting Nimes with my parents in July 2012, we started our quest to soak up Roman history in the city center, munching some lunch just parallel to a Roman amphitheater that dated back to the 1st or 2nd century AD. Similar in grandeur and style to the Colosseum in Rome, it is one of the best preserved Roman arenas in France.

The amphitheater was built to hold about 24,000 spectators for watching gladiator contests and public executions. Wide, tall stones that were carved out of nearby mountains were used to build the seating. Today it's still used to host bull fights and concerts.

Anxious to see other Roman sites in the city, we walked across town to La Maison Carrée, 'the square house' in French. Upon approach, I was shocked at the size of the temple. Tall, two feet high steps led to the entrance, which was accentuated with grand, round columns the height of a house. Built in about 16 BC of limestone, the temple was erected in honor of Emperor Augustus' two adopted sons. It survived the turbulence of history since the fall of the Roman Empire and is in outstanding condition, still used today.

On a journey to find the most stunning Roman ruin, the next day we went outside Nimes to visit a Roman aqueduct about an hour's bus ride away, Pont du Gard. Constructed in the 1st century AD, Pont du Gard used to supply Nimes with water, carrying it from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony, a passage that totals about 31 miles. Majestically standing over the Gardon River, the aqueduct has three tiers of arches and stands 160 feet high, the tallest of all Roman aqueducts.

The water system formerly carried about 44,000,000 gallons of water per day to Nimes. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Pont du Gard was used as a toll bridge, which meant it was preserved and repaired when needed. Today it is still in great condition - my parents and I, along with many other tourists, walked across it.

Our curiosity peaked by the water system, when we returned to Nimes, we walked to the water tank where citizens went to collect water delivered by the aqueduct. The tank was an open, shallow, circular basin, and was formerly filled with the water that took nearly 27 hours to travel to the city. Water was also delivered to baths, fountains, and private homes in an underground system that ran through the city.

Our final day in Nimes, we wandered over to Les Jardins de la Fontaine, 'the gardens of the fountain'. Nestled at the base of a hill, the gardens house a refreshing fountain, created by a canal that originally led from the Pont du Gard. Peppered with hundred-year-old statues and lush, green, ferns, palm trees, and shrubs, the gardens were an oasis. Another Roman ruin, Diane's Temple, remained in rubbles deep in the gardens, surrounded by pieces of fallen stones that collapsed after years of neglect. The frame of the temple still stands, thankfully preserved while being used as a monastery during the Middle Ages. The original purpose of the temple is disputed, but it could have been a library.

Walking farther into the gardens, we hiked uphill to a tower overlooking the city, la Tour Magne. Raised in approximately 15 BC, the tower stands at 92 feet high and was built as a display of Roman imperial power and was part of a chain of towers surrounding the city.

From the top of the tower, we got a beautiful panorama view of Nimes. Breathing in the fresh, Mediterranean air, we could almost taste the history that was just within our fingertips.