The French city of Nîmes contains some of the most impressive examples of Roman architecture in Europe – it's even known as “the French Rome”.
Nîmes Roman RuinsLast updated on
The first Roman settlers of Nîmes were some of Caesar's veterans from his campaigns in Egypt, who had been granted farmland as a reward for their service. The site was promising, situated on the Via Domitia, a major road built in 118 BC that connected Italy to the provinces of Hispania.
Sometime before Augustus took control of Rome in 27 BC, Nîmes had developed into a thriving Roman city known to the Romans as Nemausus. During Augustus's reign, Nimes benefited from his expansive building programs. The city was fortified by almost four miles of defensive walls, including 14 defensive towers and gates.
Over the centuries, Nîmes continued to grow, nourished by an astounding aqueduct known today as the Pont du Gard – the tallest aqueduct ever built by the Romans. Several major public buildings, including the imposing amphitheater, were constructed or rebuilt during the 2nd Century AD.
Nîmes continued as a prosperous city until barbarian invasions wracked the Empire during the 3rd Century AD. Eventually, the city was overrun by the Visigoths in 472 AD.
Nîmes features some of the best-preserved Roman sites not just in France, but in the whole of Europe.
Perhaps the most impressive attraction is the Maison Carree – the city's main temple. It was built sometime in the 1st Century BC in the Vitruvian style. Unbelievably, the temple seems to have survived countless centuries and remained almost completely intact, making it one of the world's best-preserved examples of a Roman temple.
The city's amphitheater, known today as the Arena of Nimes, is also remarkably well-preserved. It was constructed in approximately 70 AD, not long after Rome's own Colosseum. Up to 24,000 spectators could enjoy events in the arena, including gladiatorial fights.
Nîmes is also home to the Temple of Diana, which isn't technically a temple. Instead, it's a nymphaeum dedicated to the nymphs of the La Fontaine hot spring. The building also contains an Augusteum, which allowed citizens to worship the Emperor.
Throughout the city, visitors can also spot remnants of the aqueduct that brought water to Nimes. The Pont du Gard section of the aqueduct is the most impressive, towering nearly 50 meters high. It's a 45-minute drive from the center of Nimes.
The Musée de la Romanite is the city's Roman museum. It was opened in 2018 and is close to the amphitheater.
Visiting information and tips
Nîmes is easily reached by high-speed train from Paris. The city is approximately an hour and a half from Marseilles-Provence airport by car.
The amphitheater and the Maison Carree are open throughout the year. Admission is €10 for adults and €5 for children.
The Musée de la Romanite is open every day of the week except Tuesdays. Tickets cost €8 for adults and €3 for children.