France: Nimes

Oh no, not another Roman amphitheatre! Just how many of them are there…?

Just kidding. This one’s a beauty.

Although not the biggest, the magnificent Arènes de Nîmes is definitely one of the best preserved.

Built during the first century, believed to be around 70 AD, and used for chariot races, executions and gladiatorial combat, as you can see from these photos, it is a marvellous sight. Roughly elliptical in shape and measuring 133 metres long, 101 metres wide and 21 metres high, its façade is composed of two floors of 60 arches surmounted by an attic. It was able to hold audiences of up to 24,000 baying spectators.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the arena suffered repeated raids. It was used as a fortress in the sixth century (complete with moat), a castle in the twelfth. It became a medieval settlement, a town in its own right, with a sizeable destitute population living within its walls. By 1812, the many buildings inside had all been demolished; restored to some of its former glory in 1863 to serve as a bullring, since then it has been used all year round for public events such as concerts, circuses and, still, bull-fights.

With the Maison-Carée, Tour Magne and Pont du Gard such well-preserved monuments of the Roman age, it is unsurprising that Nîmes, in south-west France, was one of the richest towns in Gaul and most defended of all the Roman Empire. It retains its traditions with Roman Games held at the Arena each May, giving visitors a taste of this remarkable period in history, with re-enactments of gladiator-fights and chariot-races.

David is performing here as part of the annual Festival of Nîmes, a series of summer concerts that have taken place since 1997 during the month of July.

If you’ll be there over the next two nights, have a splendid time and tell us all about it, won’t you?