Our first stop today was at one of the most impressive of all the vestiges of the Roman empire in France (“Gaul” in ancient times), the incredible Pont du Gard. This is a section of the aqueduct that brought water to Nimes during its heyday as the epitome of the Pax Romana during the first few centuries AD. The structure is second in height, by only six feet, to only the Colosseum in Rome among remaining structures from that era.
This closeup of one of the arches shows the forward thinking of the builders. The stones that stuck out were used to support scaffolding during construction, and were left in place because they anticipated the need for maintenance.
After lunch, we headed up to Nimes. A fact little known in the US, where denim blue jeans are often believed to be the brainchild of Levi Strauss, is that denim originated in Nimes. The French phrase de Nimes means “from Nimes” and is pronounced “deneem“, with a slight accent on the second syllable.
Besides being surprised at the association with denim, I was also surprised at the association with bullfighting. One of the finest-preserved Roman arenas is still in use today as a “bull gaming” center.
Just a block away from the arena you can by your own matador outfit.
On the plaza in front of the arena is a statue of Christian Montcouquiol (Nimeño II), a beloved French matador who lost his last bullfight and died two years later, in 1991.
In the center of town is the famous “Maison Carré” (Square House), a pre-christian era house of worship built in honor of Augustus Caesar who was a major sponsor of Nimes and who helped establish it as a major center of Roman influence in ancient Gaul. The house stood near one end of the Nimes Forum, like all forums the center of intellectual and business life in Roman cities.
Tomorrow we head south to the marshes on the coast. We understand there are a few thousand flamingos expecting us, and maybe some white horses.