Last February we escaped a weekend to the French city of Nîmes to discover the archaeological heritage of the city and enjoy its cuisine. In this article you can join us to discover the impressive Roman ruins of Nîmes. Are you coming?
I love the ruins all types. Some of the most widespread in the Mediterranean area and Europe are the ruins that left us the Roman and Greek civilization, which we could see in the trip to Sicily, to Tunisia and logically in the trip to Rome and in the trip to Greece.
But there are also Roman and Greek ruins closer. For example, in Spain we have those of Merida, Tarragona or Ampurias, for just three examples. And on the other side of the Pyrenees there are also very well preserved Roman ruins, as in the French cities of Arles and Nîmes. In this post, we will focus on the Roman ruins of Nîmes, located in the province of Languedoc-Rousillon, halfway between Montpellier and Marseille.
The city of Nîmes has 26 centuries of history. It all starts with a Celtic tribe, called the aremic volcanoes, which settled around a spring. They called Nemazat to the god of the spring and they worshiped him. Four centuries later, the Romans arrived with their expansionist interests and the volcos quickly allied with them. Thanks to this alliance, the Celtic town gradually became Nemausa, a Roman colony from which César Augusto began the conquest of all of Gaul. The alliance with the Romans and their situation on the Roman road that connected Rome with Hispania made the city prosper until it reached about 25,000 inhabitants. From this heyday, three large buildings can still be seen today: the circus, he imperial temple and the magna tower. And you can still see the spring of Nemazat who gave the name to the city of Nîmes.
This spring is the one that gave rise to the city of Nemausa.
Today, the spring is part of the fountain gardens or, in French, «les jardins de la fontaine». It was here that we started the guided tour with Sophie. This park surrounds the spring and climbs up the hill to the Magna Tower. Around the underground fountain, the balustrades and the design of the park corresponds to the reform of the s. XVIII. However, the little island surrounded by water was already there during Roman times. In its center stood the altar of sacrifices in honor of Nemausus, which is what the Romanized Gauls called the god of the spring. Archaeological excavations revealed that underground springs were almost three meters high from the spring. And although its exact use is unknown, some people think that it was a way to raise or lower the water level around the island of the altar. Maybe to impress the faithful of Nemausus during religious ceremonies?
On one side of the park the ruins of a mysterious Roman building rise: the call Diana's temple. In the first archaeological investigations it was concluded that this building should be a temple of the Roman goddess of hunting and nature. As Diana counted among her helpers the nymphs of the natural sites as fountains and water courses, it was possible that the Romans erected a temple in her honor next to the sacred spring of the Celts. However, other theories venture that it may have been simply a library associated with the sanctuary as a whole. The niches that can be seen on the walls could have hosted important papyri. And the passage of the soft morning light through the open window just above the entrance door would have illuminated the interior without damaging the fragile papyrus. You still don't know for sure.
The spring water continues to flow today. Leave the park through two decorative canals in front of the great avenue Jean Jaurès and turn ninety degrees to the left, towards the old town of Nîmes. As we were told, the channel in the street Quai de la Fontaine It is especially beautiful in autumn, when trees loaded with yellowish and ocher leaves form a canopy of colors on the water. At the opposite end, the water enters the subsoil of Nîmes. In the Middle Ages it was used to fill the pit of the walls from the city. And later, during the boom of the textile industry In the area, dyers took advantage of it for their interests. At present, it continues its course through the subsoil and later joins other rivers beyond.
Following the avenue A. Daudet on the right, you will arrive in a few minutes to a square where one of the best-known ruins of Nîmes stands proud: the maison carrée. Although, in reality, it is the opposite of a ruin. And it is that this Roman temple dedicated to the cult of the imperial lineage remains standing since its construction. No columns lying, no stones on the floor. This one piece, as is. It is an impressive sample of Roman architecture. When we saw it for the first time, we assumed that it would have been completely rebuilt. But we were wrong. The only thing that was rebuilt from this temple was the roof of the porch and a capital. So, the maison carrée It's one of the best preserved roman religious buildings in the world, with the exception of pantheon of rome.
To build it, a good number of Gallo-Roman houses collapsed. In his time, he was surrounded by a colonnade that delimited the enclosure of the sanctuary and formed a courtyard where public ceremonies were held. In front of the temple was the forum of ancient Nemausus and the building of the curia. Near the entrance you can still see the ground level of the Roman city. In addition, on the door you can see some structures that supported the wooden door. Apparently, it covered another more valuable bronze door inlaid with semiprecious stones.