Nîmes in Languedoc-Roussillon is the home of some of the best preserved Roman monuments in the world and is especially famous for its amphitheatre.
Founded in the 6th century BC by a Celtic tribe, but it was under the Romans that Nîmes reached its peak of fame and fortune in the 2nd century AD. Its prosperity ended when the Visigoths arrived in the 5th century and during the early Middle Ages, the amphitheatre was turned into a refuge for the people of Nîmes - houses built inside the arena were only demolished in 1809. In the 19th century trade in textiles and silk made Nîmes rich again, an industry begun during the Wars of Religion when many Protestants were driven out of public life and became traders, exporting Indian cloth to Europe before making their own and becoming famous for making silk shawls. Today, Nîmes is a wonderful mix of the contemporary and antiquity sitting alongside each other. The magnificent amphitheatre is the focal point of the city - standing 133m long, 101m wide and 21m high, it has 2 levels and 34 tiers of seating that can hold 23,000. The best conserved amphitheatre in the Roman world, it still holds events and shows today. Other excellently preserved remnants of the Roman Empire are the Temple of Diane, whose exact purpose is still unknown, the Maison Carrée, which is the only fully preserved ancient temple in the world and the stone-carved Roman gates of Port August and Port France. The famous Pont du Gard, part of the Roman aqueduct over the River Gardon is just 30 mins away.
Other centuries have also left their mark on Nîmes with several religious buildings dating from the Middle Ages including the Romanesque cathedral and Romano-Byzantine St Paul's church, some spectacular mansions dating from the 15th to 19th centuries and the contemporary steel and glass architecture of the Carré d'Art and Nemausus. The heart of the city is the Place aux Herbes beside the cathedral but there are many squares around the city for pleasant walks, with lots of sculptures, fountains and café terraces where you can relax. Nîmes is also a city with a party atmosphere, especially during its festivals. The Feria de Pentecôte takes place for 5 days every Whitsun and is known as one of the most popular festivals in Europe - a celebration of food, drink and music with a procession, La Pégoulade, of illuminated floats, dancers and music opening the festival. Later in the year, the Feria des Vendanges celebrates the wine harvest on every 3rd Friday, Saturday and Sunday in September. If you need some quiet time why not explore some of the countryside of the Garrigue, an area of scrubland just outside the city, and wander through the olive trees, discovering the dry masonry walls and shelters of times gone by that were built by the local farmers and peasants?
Food lovers will be delighted by the Festival of Gastronomy, Gastronîmes, a national event with cooking classes for adults and children, a farmers' market and a chefs' lunch in the arena. Nîmes specialities include olives and tapenade (a paste of black olives and anchovies), and the sweet biscuits Le Croquant Villaret and Le Caladon. Local dishes are Brandade de Nîmes (desalted salt cod with an emulsion of olive oil and milk), Gardianne de Taureau (bull's meat marinated in local red wine) and Agneau de Nîmes (suckling lamb) - all great served with the Costieres de Nîmes wine or the famous Perrier mineral water whose source is nearby. There are lots of local markets, including the covered market, Les Halles, where you can buy fresh produce and several different kinds of market across the city. Don't forget some traditional designed cloth or shawls from the many boutiques!
Region: Languedoc Roussillon
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