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Encyclopedia > Nimes

Nīmes is a city and commune of southern France, préfecture (capital) of the Gard département. Population (1999): 133,424.



The city derives its name from Nemausus, perhaps the sacred wood in which the Celtic tribe of Volcae Arecomici (who of their own accord surrendered to the Romans in 121 BC) held their assemblies (according to Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911) or perhaps the local Celtic spirit guardian of the spring that originally provided all water for the settlement, as many modern sources suggest. Or perhaps Stephanus of Byzantium was correct in stating in his geographical dictionary that Nemausos, the city of Gaul, took its name from the Heracleid (or son of Heracles) Nemausios.

Nīme was located on the Via Domitia, a Roman road constructed in 118 BC, connecting Italy to Spain.

The Origins of Nimes

Prehistory The site on which the built-up area of Nimes has become established in the course of centuries is part of the edge of the alluvial plain of the Vistrenque River which buts up against low hills: to the North-East, the Mr. Duplan; to the South-West, Montaury; to the West, Mt. Cavalier and the knoll of Canteduc.

From 4000 to 2000 BC The site know as Serre Paradis belongs to the New Stone Age (Neolithic). This deposit reveals the presence of semi-nomadic cultivators in the period 4000 to 3500 BC on the future emplacement of Nimes. The population of the site increased during the thousand-year period of the Bronze Age. The menhir of Courbessac (or La Poudriere) stands in a field, near the airstrip. This limestone monolith of over 2 meteres in height dates to about 2500 BC, and must be considered as the oldest monumnet of Nimes.

From 1800 to 1 BC The Bronze Age has left us traces of a village of huts and branches.

From 600 BC to 49 BC The Warritor of Grezan is considered to be the most ancient indigenous sculpture in southern Gaul. The hill named Mt. Cavalier was the site of the early oppidum which gave birth to the city. In the 3rd to 2nd century BC a surrounding wall was built, closed at the summit by a dry-stone tower, which was later incorporated into the masonry of The Tor Magne. The Wars of Gaul and the fall of Marseilles (49 BC) allowed Niems to regain its autonomy under Rome.

The Gallo-Roman Period It was about 50 BC that Nimes became a Roman colony, as witness the earliest coins which bear the abbreviation NEM. COL, "Colony of Nimes". Some years later a sanctuary and other constructions connected with the fountain were raised on the site. Nimes was already under Roman influence, though it was Augustus who made the city the capital of Narbonne province, and gave it all its glory. Augustus gave the town a ring of ramparts six kilometers long, reinforced by fourteen towers, with gates of which two remain today, the Porte Auguste and the Porte de France. He had the Forum built and perhaps also the aqueduct. Nothing remains of certin monuments, the existence of which is known from inscriptions or architectural fragments found in the course of excavations. It is know that the town had civil basilica, a curia, a gymnasium and perhaps a circus. The amphitheatre dates from the end of the 2nd century AD. This prosperity was to stay with the town until the end of the 3rd century. Already there was risk of invasion, and the decadence of Rome allowed the barbarian hordes to be even more audacious. Visigoths, Burgunds, and Ostrogoths came one after the other to pillage the riches of the Empire.

From the 4th to 5th century After the Gallo-Roman period, in the days of invasion and decadence, the Christian Church, already established in Gaul since the 1st century AD, appeared be the last refuge open to civilisation. Remarkably organised and directed by men of great worth, it took bit by bit a preponderant place in the march of time. After the barbarian invasions the population had to face incursions by Moors from Spain (AD 710). This occupation, strange to say, was beneficial for the Nimes region. It came to an end in 754 under Pepin the Short. The town, ruined by so many troubles and invasions was now only a shadow of the opulent Gallo-Roman city. The local powers installed themselves in the amphitheatre. Carolingian rule brought relative peace with it, but feudal times in the 12th century brought local troubles which lasted until the days of St.Louis. During this preiod Nimes was jointly administered by a lay power resident in the old amphitheatre, where lived the Viguier and the Knights of the Arena, and the religious power based in the Bishop's place complex, around the cathedral, its chapter and the Bishop's hous; meanwhile the city was represented by four Consuls who sat in the Maison Carree. Despire incessant feudal squabbling, Nimes saw a certain progress both in commerce and industry as well as in stockbreeding and associated activities. After the last effort by Raymond VII of Toulouse, St. Louis managed to base Royal power in the region which became Languedoc. Nimes thus entered finally into the hands of the King of France.

The Time of Invasions During the 14th and 15th centuries the Rhone Valley underwent an uninterrupted series of invasions which ruined the economy and brought about famine. Customs were forgotten, there were religious troubles and epidemics, all of which affected the city. Nimes, which was one of the Protestant strongholds, felt the full force of repression and fratricidal confrontments whihc continued until the middle of the 17th century, adding to the misery of periodic outbreaks of plague.

From the 17th Century to the Revolution In the middle of the 17th century Nimes experienced a period of prosperity. Populaiton growth caused the town to expand, and slum housing to be replaced. Also to this period dates the reconstruction of Notre-Dame-Saint-Castor, the Bishop's palace and numerous mansions (Hotels). This 'renaissance' strenghthened the manufacturing and industrial vocation of the city, the population rising from 21000 to 50000 inhabitants. Also in this period the Fountain gardens were laid out, the areas surrounding the Maison Carree and the Amphitheatre wre cleared, whilst the entire population benefitted from the atmosphere of prosperity.

From the Revolution to the Present Day Following the European economic crisis which hit Nimes with full force, the Revolutionary period awoke slumbering demons of political and religious antagonism. The White Terror added to natural calamities and economic recession, produced murder, pillage and arson until 1815. Order was however restored in the course of the 19th century, and Nimes became the metropolis of Bas-Languedoc, diversifying its industry towards new kinds of activity. At the same time the surrounding countryside adapted to market needs and shared in the general increase of wealth. Nimes is already prepared to face the oncoming century and, having withstood the burden of two world wars, on the eve of the third millenium, is perhaps on the threshold of a new Golden Age.


Nīmes may have been one of the richest and finest Roman cities of Gaul. Several important remains of the Roman Empire can still be seen in and around Nīmes:

  • The elliptical Roman amphitheatre, of the 1st or 2nd century AD, is the best-preserved Roman arena in France. It filled with medieval housing, when its walls served as ramparts, but was cleared under Napoleon. It is still used today as a bull fighting and concert arena.
  • The Maison Carrée (Square House), a small Roman temple dedicated to sons of Agrippa was built c. 19 BC. It is one of the best-preserved Roman temples anywhere.
  • The nearby Pont du Gard, also built by Agrippa, is a well-preserved aqueduct that used to carry water across the small Gardon river valley.
  • The nearby Mont Cavalier is crowned by the Tour Magne ("Great Tower"), a ruined Roman tower.

Later monuments include:

  • The cathedral (Saint Castor), occupying, it is believed, the site of the temple of Augustus, is partly Romanesque and partly Gothic in style.

There is modern architecture at Nīmes too: Norman Foster conceived the Carré d'art (1986), a museum of modern art and mediatheque; Jean Nouvel the Nemausus, a post-modern residential ensemble, and Kisho Kurokawa a building in the form of a hemicycle to reflect the Amphitheatre.

Tree-shaded boulevards trace the foundations of its former city walls.


Nīmes is historically known for its textiles. Denim, the fabric of blue jeans, derives its name from this city (Serge de Nīmes).

The asteroid 51 Nemausa was named after Nīmes, where it was discovered in 1858.

People born in Nīmes


  • Jean Bousquet (1983-1995)
  • Alain Clary (1995-2001)
  • Jean-Paul Fournier (2001- )

External link

  • City council website (http://www.nimes.fr/)

  Results from FactBites:
Guide and Travel Facts: Nimes, France (1811 words)
Nimes is not the most beautiful of provençal cities, surrounded in its historic core with rather anonymous C19 boulevards, but it rivals Arles in the quality of its Roman monuments.
He set in motion a series of works to elevate Nimes in its cultural, touristic and economic status to a position rivalling Montpellier or Arles as one of the capitals of the central Midi.
The particular speciality of the amphitheatre in Nimes, however, was the re-enactment of the proudest victory in Roman imperial history.
  More results at FactBites »



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