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More Roman stuff Two thousand years ago, Nimes was one of the most important cities of Roman Gaul. Today there’s a lively cosmopolitan centre but the city remains a treasure trove of Roman ruins. Take a stroll here and you’re following in well-trodden footsteps. The first Roman road in France was the Via Domitia which ran through Nimes. The Romans turned Nimes into a walled city and access was via gates, two of which remain, the Porte Auguste and Porte de France which is still in use to this day. Five minutes stroll from the arena you’ll find the magnificent temple called Maison Carrée. Built in the 1st century AD it has over the years survived by adapting. It’s been a church, stables, even apartments. Now it’s an art gallery and its impressive imperial white stone lines against the blue sky of Nimes is simply stunning. The Jardin des Fontaines is home to the ruins of what is thought to have once been a Roman library. Music students sometimes practice there and the day I visited, an opera singer’s haunting voice carried over the trees and fountains. There are also the remains of Roman baths but today the park is the focal point for those wanting to relax in tranquil, surroundings in the shade of the beautiful lime trees, or enjoy a game of boules. The Romans fortified Nimes, but only one of their towers remains. The ruins are at the highest point of the city, strategically important but also a reminder of their power. From its peak position you have a fabulous panorama over the city. Tip: Buy a combined ticket with entry to the Nimes Arena, Maison Carrée, Tour Magne and the Roman theatre at Orange. It’s valid for a month, saves you money and queuing.
What to see and do in Nimes Close to the Arena, as everything is in this compact town centre, the Place du Marché features two figures from the Nîmes coat of arms: a crocodile and a palm tree symbolising the Emperor August’ defeat of his arch rival Marc Antony and his lover Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. They’re embedded in metal stamps in the ground, created by France’s favourite designer, Philippe Starck. In fact, you’re likely to see these emblems in several places, including in the town hall where giant crocodiles hang in a rather macabre circle above your head. Summer is wickedly hot in Nîmes (whatever you do when you book accommodation – make sure you get air conditioning). Winter can be cold when the famous Mistral wind is blowing, so much so that rumour has it that Nîmes’s iconic palm trees are kept warm with a heater. It's not often that you see a Roman temple next to an über modern Norman Foster designed building but in Nimes architectural surprises abound. The Carré d'Art-Museum of Contemporary Art is next to the Maison Carré Roman temple. Home to a fabulous collection of art, modern art fans will love its clean lines and the cool white and glass interior which makes the artworks pop. The Denim connection The Musée du Vieux Nîmes (Place aux Herbes, free entrance) has a room devoted to the city’s most famous export - denim. The rough cotton fabric started out to create tough clothes for labourers but is now the uniform of the world. (You can read more about Denim from France here).
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