Don’t Drive in Nimes! But the Arena is Great

Nimes was founded by the Romans in 30 BCE, who named it after the river
god Nemausus. Casaer Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE) built the city into a flourishing trade center, and establised the old wall, the gate of which is shown in one of the photos. My guidebook said “Nimes (pronounced “Neem”) can be difficult to navigate by car.”

Remnant of wall built around time of Caesar Augustus

HAHAHAHHA!!! Of course, I didn’t read this until well after the trip. We spent an hour driving in circles around the city and through the arches of the old walls, before we figured out where the Centre Ville was. We found the Arena, which was built in the first century, but it was closed to the public to accommodate what sounded like a church revival. This arena was one of the centers of the gladiator/animal fights.

Details from top of coliseum. Historians have argued about whether these holes held banners, or great crosspoles that stretched across the arena, holding fabric for shade.

It was built without mortar, and it could hold 25,000 spectators and be emptied in minutes. The highest level was reserved for the city low-lifes, like prostitutes. During times of excess heat,  canopies could be stretched across the arena for shade.

Whitney relaxing after walking around the arena, and two near-death experiences.

The “not advised for driving” part was well born out. At one traffic circle, a car lost control and nearly careened into our minivan. I’m not exaggerating to say that it missed up by inches. And at an intersection leaving the city, a city bus decided to ignore the traffic lights. I was in the front passenger seat, navigating, and saw the bus headlights up close and personal. Eric drove most of the time, and was pretty stressed by the end of the day (white knuckled!), so the wine and cheese waiting at the home base was very welcome that night. Nearly being killed twice in one day, in a foreign country, will do that to you.  For the remainder of our trip, we had a running joke about returning to Nimes to enjoy the drive.

At the Nimes Arena. My shirt says “Ultimately, physics.” Which is pretty much the answer to every question.

Entrance to Arena

Having already been to one historic site, and being tired and stressed from the driving, we didn’t see anything in Nimes other than this immediate area. I’ve read about the city, and know that it is full of beauty and history. I am sorry we missed the old Roman forum and hope to see it some day, along with the Fabric de Nimes, or denim, the original location of a fabric originally developed by the Protestant middle class, who were banned from holding government jobs at the time. And of course, all these wonderful Roman ruins. Just, don’t drive.

I never did find out exactly *who* this hotel is for.

I like the juxtaposition of modern and ancient.

I would have liked to wander around a lot more, but I think my travel companions were pretty stressed from the drive. Plus, we had already been at one other ancient Roman site today!

Categories: History, Travel

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2 replies


  1. An Afternoon in Arles | Two Different Girls
  2. Visting the Pont du Gard, Southern France | Two Different Girls

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