Nimes is famous for its incredibly well-preserved Roman Amphitheatre and other Roman remains. But it is also home to medieval houses, Renaissance mansions, and 18th-century gardens. It was even the birthplace of denim.
Originally known as Nemausus, the town was a jewel in the Roman crown, laid out in the typical Roman grid pattern and with its drinking water supplied by a 50km (30-mile) long canal. Its 2,000 year history has given it a heritage as good as anything you’ll find in France.
Nimes Roman Amphitheatre
Several important remains of the Roman Empire can still be seen in and around Nîmes: the city’s Roman amphitheatre dates from the 1st century, and is by far the best preserved in France.
While the Colosseum in Rome is one of the most famous amphitheatres in the world, the Roman amphitheatre in Nimes is the most well preserved.
It looks very much today as it would have done when it was built back in 100 AD. Although there has been a lot of reconstruction work taking place to ensure the longevity of the building.
In any case, it’s the perfect location for anyone looking to discover the history of the Roman influence on the area as well as an opportunity to soak up some grand architecture, the likes of which we simply don’t see in the modern age.
This arena, while small compared to some others, can seat up to 23,000 people and back in the day was the stage for everything from animal hunts to gladiator fights.
Today, it is open to the public who can discover the tunnels beneath the theatre and sit in the stands to experience what it would have been like back in Roman times.
The Nimes amphitheatre is located in the centre of the town square making it quite the landmark. But it isn’t just something to admire, it’s still a working arena where you can book to see events such as bull fights, sports events and music concerts.
If you’re a fan of the festive period, be sure to head to the Nimes amphitheatre close at Christmas when it is lit up with stunning lights and illuminations.
What else is Nimes famous for?
The nearby Pont du Gard is a stunning sight and one of our Top 10 Places to Visit in France. It was used to carry water across the Gardon river. Elsewhere you find medieval houses, Renaissance mansions, and 18th-century gardens. And of course more Roman remains.
The gardens such as the Jardins de la Fontaine wherein lie the Roman remains of the Temple of Diana, and on the cypress and pine-pinned hillside above the Nemausa spring sit the remains of the Tour Magne, a former Roman tower guarding the city.
The Maison Carrée (Square House), is a small Roman temple dedicated to sons of Agrippa was built c.19BCE; it is one of the best-preserved Roman temples anywhere.
Nîmes’s other major claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of denim, which originally meant “de Nîmes”, or “from Nîmes”. In the early 1900s, the town’s merchants exported the cloth to the United States in order to make sails for ships, tarpaulins and workmen’s trousers.
In 1870, a Bavarian immigrant by the name of Levi Strauss used this cloth to make trousers for the trailblazers opening up the Wild West – made in Genoa of “de Nîmes” cloth, one of the world’s best known garments was born.
Against this backdrop, Nîmes is buzzing with a contemporary Mediterranean atmosphere. Pedestrianised shopping streets heavy with designer clothing boutiques are networked with tranquil alleyways, Andalusian-style tapas bars, bodegas and trendy bistros.
Bull fighting in Nimes
What visitors to Nîmes must not overlook, is that bull-fighting is still a popular spectacle there. If this offends you, be sure to stay away when the bullfighting takes place.
Nimes and Perrier water
Nearby Vergèze is the source of Perrier water, much loved by Europeans. The source at Les Bouillens is a subterranean pool of water from which natural gas is released and then reincorporated into the water.
It was local doctor Louis Perrier who discovered the mysterious therapeutic properties of the water at Les Bouillens, having bought the spring in 1898; but an Englishman by the name of Harmsworth wholater bought it and set about marketing the water.
Today, the brand belongs to the Nestlé group, and this fizzy bottled water is available in over 140 countries.
A visit to the factories shows you the making of the bottles and the bottling, labelling, packaging and storage processes, alongside a permanent exhibition of promotional materials that bring back to life the heyday of the familiar green bottle.
Les Bouillens, 30310 Vergèze
Tel: 04 66 87 61 01
Open: Apr–Aug Mon–Fri 9.30am–5pm, Sep–Mar Mon–Thu 9.30am–5pm. Booking essential.