Les monuments romains de Nîmes

Les monuments
romains de Nîmes

A place of history

The ancient city of Nîmes was exceptional amongst the cities of Gaul with a Roman past, both due to its many monuments and their remarkable state of conservation. 

-600 Nemausus

-600

Nemausus

-600 Nemausus

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).

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. During this period, the city of Nîmes was called Nemausus, in honour of a Gallic god whose cult was related to the sacred springs that flowed in the city.

58 BC marks the beginning of the Gallic Wars. Julius Caesar sought to conquer the Gallic territories for the Roman Empire. 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.

-15 Construction des monuments romains

-15

Construction of the roman monuments

Under the leadership of the Emperor Augustus, Nîmes became one of the most important cities of Gallia Narbonensis and had the honour of being named ‘Colonia Augusta Nemausensis’ by the Emperor himself. He equiped Nemausus with the public buildings required for the running of the city.

-15 Construction des monuments romains

In 15 BC, the Tour Magne is bluilt. Ramparts were constructed, extending for 7 km and surrounding more than 200 hectares of land. All that remains of these fortifications today is the Porte d’Auguste and the Tour Magne. This tower was named after the Latin ‘Turris Magna’ meaning ‘great tower’, and was the tallest tower of the fortifications. 

In 2 AD, the Maison Carrée was built, temple intended to accommodate the imperial cult. The Maison Carrée was dedicated to the Emperor’s grandson. In Roman Times, it was at the heart of the forum. Access was reserved to priests alone. However, rituals, sacrifices and processions were carried out in the presence of the city’s inhabitants.

In 100 AD, the construction begins on the amphitheatre. Construction took 39 years to complete. During ancient times, shows were primarily held in wooden theatres. Over time, these theatres were replaced by more solid constructions made of stone. 

2nd century AD The apogee of gladiatorial combats

2nd century AD

The apogee of gladiatorial combats

Sometimes slaves, but most often freemen, the gladiators were all well trained professional fighters who were part of a troupe. 

2nd century AD The apogee of gladiatorial combats

The different gladiators

300 The end of the Roman Games

300

The end of the Roman Games

Gradually, gladiatorial contests became increasingly bloody, and at times fighting even broke out amongst the spectators.

300 The end of the Roman Games

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. Former pagan temples were transformed into churches and the violence of the Roman Games was called into question.

From 417 The Amphitheatre at the heart of history

From 417

The Amphitheatre at the heart of history

From 417 The Amphitheatre at the heart of history

In 417, 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. 

From 1194, 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.

In 1226, 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. 

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. This small district with its lanes survived until 1809, when the many constructions that surrounded it were demolished

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. He cleared the underground areas of the amphitheatre and the room known as the ‘circular room’. Holes point to the presence of Trap doors through which the gladiators would have entered and exited during performances.

From 1000 AD The Maison Carrée over centuries

From 1000 AD

The Maison Carrée over centuries

From 1000 AD The Maison Carrée over centuries

Up until the 16th century, the Maison Carrée was used as a municipal consular building and was known as ‘Le Capitole’. Local historian Léon Ménard explains how the changes brought to the building effaced many of the vestiges of the ancient architecture, particularly in the interior. 

In 1670, 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.

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.  

2005 Culturespaces becomes a delegate

2005

Culturespaces becomes a delegate

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.

2005 Culturespaces becomes a delegate

2010 The first edition of the Great Roman Games

2010

The first edition of the Great Roman Games

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.

2010 The first edition of the Great Roman Games

This event is a historical evocation of the amphitheatre games as they could have taken place in 122 AD. The costumes, weapons and equipment used are based on accurate historical and archaeological sources. The fighting techniques displayed are also the result of rigorous experiments. This intentionally historical approach is unique in the field. It allows us to experience the reality of Ancient Rome.

2010 The first edition of the Great Roman Games

‘While watching a highly entertaining show, the spectators of the Grands Jeux Romains (Roman Games) in Nîmes can play an active role in an original experience of historical experimentation.’ 

Eric Teyssier, Lecturer in Roman History at the University of Nîmes

2010 The first edition of the Great Roman Games

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.

2010 The first edition of the Great Roman Games

2019 The first edition of the Nemaus Nights

2019

The first edition of the Nemaus Nights

For the first time, Culturespaces will open the Nîmes Amphitheatre in the evening for a unique event especially created for the Amphitheatre. ‘Les Nuits de Nemaus’ (‘Nemausus evenings’) provides an excellent opportunity to discover Nîmes’s historical and cultural heritage.

2019 The first edition of the Nemaus Nights

The Roman Amphitheatre is plunged into a poetic atmosphere via the projection of images, sound and lighting effects, and live and equestrian performances. 

2019 The first edition of the Nemaus Nights

‘Nemausus was primarily the tutelary god of Nimes, the sacred fountain sanctuary in antiquity. Some even claimed that he was the son of Hercules himself. Nîmes, the former “Colonia Augusta Nemausa”, was named after him. In the show, near the end of his life at the end of the nineteenth century, he tells his story and transports the spectators right into the soul of Nîmes!’

Christophe Beth, Director of the Nîmes Amphitheatre

2019 The first edition of the Nemaus Nights