The above image is of Nimes’ La Maison Carree, Roman Temple. 2-5 AD
We had just finished a sun-warmed, November Saturday walk around town and joined a medium-sized group of dedicated French, relishing their cherished ‘al fresco’ dining in a small square. After the first sip of our newly discovered adult beverage, Marsha breathed out, “I like this Life.” It wasn’t said excitedly, or loudly, or even dreamily; it was more of a confirmation. The last seven months have verified that this vagabond life of frugal freedom is not only possible, but sustainable. And we do like it … very much.
Nimes (pronounced ‘Neem’) is a discovery of our own. Rick Steves, our main travel resource, only mentions Nimes in reference to other destinations, so I guess this is our very own find. Leaving Nice, we took two SNCF (French rail system) trains to arrive here. We forgot how nice the French trains are; very smooth, clean, comfortable coaches. This is in contrast to our Eastern European travel. Combine all this with the great discounts we get with our SNCF Senior Cards, and we are happy Ferroequinologists. (Sorry, just showing off now.)
When we left Nice and the French Riviera we were in short sleeves … not so for Nimes in November. Not only was it considerably cooler, we were met with Provence’s famous Mistral winds that come swooping down from the Alps. The French in Provence get to “enjoy” these 100 days a year. After our delightful host got us settled in our brilliant flat, we pulled out our jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves. Actually, the change was very invigorating … in a hot chocolate sort of way.
Nimes was a very important Roman city and became a regional capital for the world power. It was so important to Rome that they built an aqueduct that brought water from Uzes, 30 miles away. The 1st century Pont du Gard, a Unesco World Heritage site 12 miles from Nimes, is part of this system. Last April we took a day trip from Avignon to see this amazing structure. We were so taken by it then that we took a 45-minute bus ride from here to see it again. Going in November meant not dealing with a lot of pesky tourists getting in the way. We even enjoyed a relaxing picnic at the base of this ancient structure and a not-so-relaxing hike above it to see the top channel that carried the precious water to Nimes. I have included an image of an old, gnarled tree that seemed to be standing guard on the walk to the aqueduct.
Nimes is a very walkable city. It felt like a flat, open, smaller Paris. The University of Nimes brings an energetic vibe that mingles so well with the tree-lined streets and family-friendly parks. It is a good mix of modern with the ancient. There are several structures left here from the 2nd century Roman colonization. Port Auguste and Port de France (stones gates for the 7 km of wall built between 16-15 BC) are the only two left. We shared a stroll with the locals through Les Jardins de la Fontaine, one of the great public gardens in Europe of the 18th century. This was one of the areas, with its extensive ponds, that benefited from the aqueduct. The Temple of Diane still stands as part of this garden.
Nimes’s most famous Roman sites are the La Maison Carree (featured image of post), Tour Magne, and the Amphitheatre. The La Maison Carree was a Roman Temple built between 2-5 AD and dedicated to the grandsons of Emperor Augustus: Caius and Lucius. This is the only fully-preserved temple of the ancient world. Inside, we watched a well-made movie documenting Nimes’s beginnings. Below is an artist’s rendering of the temple as it originally would have appeared, with the Amphitheatre in the distance.
The Tour Magne is the last and highest of the 80 towers that surrounded the city. Only two of the original three levels have survived. We climbed to the top and had a great view over Nimes.
Nimes’ Amphitheatre is one of the best preserved in the Roman world. Built at the end of the 1st century, shortly after the famous one in Rome, this 24,000+ seat, entertainment center was the heart of the city. The usual activities took place here: animals attacking criminals, hunters attacking animals, and gladiators doing their thing. Today, the arena (Latin for ‘sand’) continues as one of the hubs of entertainment, but somewhat less violent: concerts, conferences, bloodless bull fights, and the annual, two-day reenactment of the gladiator world.
Fun Fact: Nimes was famous for textile manufacturing in the 17th century. Cotton and indigo, a dye imported from an Italian plant, gave rise to a fabric known as ‘Serge de Nimes’, a very durable material. Trading posts reached as far as New York. The ‘bleu de Genes’ was anglicized to ‘blue jeans.’ In the 19th century, Levi Strauss, by chance, bought some of the sturdy material, ‘de Nimes’ that became ‘denim.’ This new material was perfect for the clothing Strauss was making for miners and prospectors. The 1st batch was numbered ‘501’ and the rest is history.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Nimes and would come back… maybe in the spring for the Gladiator reenactment. Below are some more images of life in this enjoyable city, including a game of petanque. Note the steel ball being chucked towards you.
Last-day images from Nice, of what is considered to be the finest Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia:
Next week we will be wandering around Carcassonne. We haven’t quite decided yet where to stay from mid-November to the first of December. We have secured another month in Paris – we wanted to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the City of Light. There is just something about that city.
We do like this Life!
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We look forward to hearing from you.
Preston & Marsha
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