At this time, Nîmes was a modest fortified village, an oppidum built on the slopes of Mont Cavalier, which provided a certain degree of protection. Early on, the prosperity of the Greek colony of Massalia (current-day Marseille) attracted the greed of the Romans. When a conflict broke out between the Massalia and the Celtic tribes of the area, the City turned to the Romans for help. The Romans then settled in the region, extending their territory along the Mediterranean coast of Gaul. This province, extending from the Alps to the Pyrenees, was known as Gallia Narbonensis.
The Festival of Nîmes has carved out a choice position for itself in the small circle of major festivals of importance. This year, the Amphitheatre of Nîmes are once again the venue for a program of events to match their splendour!
17 June: Texas + Simple Minds
20 June: Marilyn Manson
22 June: Calogero
23 June: Ennio Morricone
28 June: Orelsan
29 June: Julien Clerc + Véronique Sanson
30 June: Kids United
4 July: IAM
5 July: Vianney + Cats on Trees
8 July: Lenny Kravitz
12 July: Jamiroquai
13 July: Indochine
17 July: Sting
18 July: Massive Attack + Young Fathers
19 July: Bigflo & Oli
22 July ; Shaka Ponk
Following the unprecedented success of the previous edition, this 9th edition will be devoted to the historical figure of Spartacus. On Saturday 28, Sunday 29 and Monday 30 April, lovers of ancient history will gather at the amphitheatre in Nîmes to attend a re-enactment of the Great Roman Games.
The Great Roman Games in Nîmes
Often called the ‘Rome of France’, the city of Nîmes boasts the world’s best preserved Roman monuments: the amphitheatre (Arènes), Maison Carrée, the Tour Magne, and the Castellum Divisorium, the Temple de Diana and the Porte Auguste. This remarkable heritage is the ideal setting in which to host a large-scale historical re-enactment of this nature.
The compelling enthusiasm of the 500 plus history lovers who come here from all over Europe to re-enact the games, combined with the fervour of the public, have made these Great Roman Games a popular and highly-anticipated event each year. In 2015, Hannibal attracted over 24,000 spectators, filling the amphitheatre as it would have been at the time of its construction under the emperor Hadrian, some 2,000 years ago.
This year, travel back in time once again and enjoy the atmosphere of the legendary ludi (Roman Games) in the amphitheatre and savour the atmosphere that would have been enjoyed by the inhabitants of Nemausus (Nîmes).
Julius Caesar sought to conquer the Gallic territories for the Roman Empire. The Gallic Wars, at the end of which Caesar would be proclaimed emperor, lasted a period of 7 years and saw the invasion of the Roman Legions as far as current-day Germany. Although the South-East of France was already very Romanized at the time, Caesar sought to enhance this even further. The city adopted Roman law which provided it with a privileged position and relative autonomy. Its inhabitants practised the language, laws and customs of Roman citizens.
In addition to its ramparts, the city also boasts a large number of buildings of historical interest. One of these is the Maison Carrée which was constructed as part of this comprehensive programme implemented by the Emperor Augustus to equip Nemausus with the public buildings required for the running of the city. This temple was intended to accommodate the imperial cult. The Maison Carrée was dedicated to the Emperor’s grandson. Access was reserved to priests alone. However, rituals, sacrifices and processions were carried out in the presence of the city’s inhabitants.
During ancient times, shows were primarily held in wooden theatres. Over time, these theatres were replaced by more solid constructions made of stone. In order to host fights between both animals and gladiators, the Romans had the idea of designing an elliptical stage for this combined use. The stage was surrounded by tiered seating, the ancestor of our modern stages.
Gradually, gladiatorial contests became increasingly bloody, and at times fighting even broke out amongst the spectators. At this time, the Roman Empire was little more than a giant with feet of clay, whose rule was contested in many parts of the Empire: the frontiers were under attack from the Barbarians, and within the Empire, there was a growing threat from Christians whose values had little regard for Pagan pleasures. The Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the state religion in 391.
A few years after gladiatorial contests had been definitively forbidden, the amphitheatre, no longer having any real use or function, was transformed into a fortress. It was surrounded by a strong wall made from blocks recycled from the Roman era. Besieged on several occasions, the amphitheatre proved to be particularly efficient in terms of defence.
Up until the 16th century, the Maison Carrée was used as a municipal consular building and was known as ‘Le Capitole’.
Under the suzerainty of the counts of Toulouse, the amphitheatre become the seat of the Viscount of Nîmes and his vassals. A castle was built inside the amphitheatre. Over the course of a century, inhabitants of the castle lived alongside local Nîmes residents without any real interaction between the two populations. However, control of the city was shared with the local bourgeoisie.
The amphitheatre lost its military value when the Languedoc Region became part of the Kingdom of France. The Knights were evicted from the amphitheatre by the troops of King Louis VIII, who took up occupancy of the site until the 14th century, before moving to a new castle built on the site of the Porte d’Auguste. The abandoned amphitheatre was then taken over by private individuals.
Augustinian monks purchased the Maison Carrée with the purpose of transforming it into a church of dressed stone. They remained the owners of the site until 1789 when it was taken over by the département. It would become a Prefecture, the first in the département of Gard, in 1800.
Once the amphitheatre passed into the hands of the local population, a veritable village sprung up inside its walls. It housed some 700 inhabitants by the 18th century, with more than a hundred homes and two churches, St. Peter’s and St. Martin’s.
Following the visit of Marie-Thérèse, the Duchess of Angoulême (daughter of Louis XVI and Louis XVIII's niece), the Maison Carrée became a museum and opened its doors to the public under the name of the ‘Musée Marie-Thérèse’. The museum housed collections of paintings dating from modern times, as well as mosaics, sculptures and architectural fragments from Ancient Rome, which are now exhibited in the city’s Musée Archéologique.
King François I was keen to restore the amphitheatre to its former glory. However, at the time, only the buildings of the first-floor gallery were cleared, leaving the disorganized cluster of houses standing in the stage area. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the last houses were cleared and architect Henri Revoil completed the restoration of the monument. Once the amphitheatre had been fully restored, it hosted its first corrida (bullfight).
Architect Henri Revoil cleared the underground areas of the amphitheatre and the room known as the ‘salle cruciforme’ [circular room] due to its shape. Holes, originally used to hold the beams supporting the floor and two lead counterweights marked with Respublica Nemausensis, point to the presence of trap doors through which the gladiators would have entered and exited during performances.
Every year, more than 400 history enthusiasts come together in Nîmes from all over France, as well as Germany and Italy, in order to re-enact the legendary Roman Games that were once held in Nemausus over 2,000 years ago, featuring gladiatorial contests, chariot races, parades of legionnaires, offering ceremonies, etc. The Great Roman Games have now become a major event and tourist attraction during the spring season in Nîmes.
On 9 July 2005, the Municipal Council of the city of Nîmes entrusted Culturespaces with the development, running and promotion of three of the city’s Roman monuments: the amphitheatre, the Maison Carrée and the Tour Magne.
Under the leadership of the Emperor Augustus, the town underwent a period of great growth and development. Ramparts were constructed, extending for 7 km and surrounding more than 200 hectares of land, which was considerable for a Gallo-Roman city at that time. All that remains of these fortifications today is the Porte d’Auguste [The Gate of Augustus], and the Tour Magne. This tower was named after the Latin ‘Turris Magna’ meaning ‘great tower’, and was the tallest tower of the fortifications.
The first traces of human habitation in Nîmes date from the late 6th century bc. These were clay huts with roofs of wattle and daub, supported by wooden posts. They were located close to a sacred spring dedicated to the god Nemaus (the site of the current-day Jardin de la Fontaine).