Nimes, France Hotels, Resorts & Hotel Accommodations

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Nîmes is a city and commune of southern France. It is the préfecture (capital) of the Gard département. Nîmes has a rich history, dating back to the Roman Empire, and is a popular tourist destination. read full wikipedia reference about Nimes, France

On the border between Provence and Languedoc, the name of NÎMES is inescapably linked to two things - denim and Rome. The latter's influence is highly visible in some of the most extensive Roman remains in Europe, while the former ( de Nîmes ), equally visible on the backsides of the populace, was first manufactured in the city's textile mills, and exported to the southern USA in the nineteenth century to clothe slaves. It's worth a visit, in part for the ruins and, nowadays, for the city's new-found energy and direction, enlisting the services of a galaxy of architects and designers - including Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel and Philippe Starck - in a bid to wrest southern supremacy from neighbouring Montpellier.

Most of what you'll want to see is contained within the boulevards de la Libération, Amiral-Courbet, Gambetta and Victor-Hugo, and there is much pleasure to be had from just wandering the narrow lanes that they enclose, discovering unexpected squares with their fountains and cafés. The focal point of the city, the first-century Roman arena, known as Les Arènes (daily: July & Aug 9am-6.30pm; rest of year 9am-noon & 2-5pm; closed during special events), lies at the junction of boulevards de la Libération and Victor-Hugo. One of the best-preserved Roman arenas anywhere, its arcaded two-storey facade conceals massive interior vaulting, riddled with corridors and supporting raked tiers of seats with a capacity of more than 20,000 spectators, whose staple fare was the blood and guts of gladiatorial combat. When Rome's sway was broken by the barbarian invasions, the arena became a fortress and eventually a slum, home to an incredible 2000 people when it was cleared in the early 1800s. Today it has recovered something of its former role, with the passionate summer crowds still turning out for some real-life blood-letting - Nîmes is the premier European bullfighting scene outside Spain.

Behind the arena, through the beautiful little place du Marché, rue Fresque leads towards the city's other famous landmark, the Maison Carrée (daily: July & Aug 9am-noon & 2.30-7pm; rest of year 9am-12.30pm & 2-6pm; free), a neat, jewel-like temple, celebrated for its integrity and harmony of proportion. Built in 5 AD, it is dedicated to the adopted sons of Emperor Augustus - all part of the business of blowing up the imperial personality cult. No surprise, then, that Napoléon, with his love of flummery and ennobling his cronies to boost his own legitimacy, should have taken it as the model for the church of the Madeleine in Paris. The temple stands in its own small square opposite rue Auguste, where the Roman forum used to be. Around it are scattered pieces of Roman masonry. On the north side of place de la Maison Carrée, there's a new example of French architectural boldness, the Carrée d'Art , by English architect Norman Foster. In spite of its size, this box of glass, aluminium and concrete sits modestly among the ancient roofs of Nîmes, its slender portico echoing that of the Roman temple opposite. Light pours in through walls and roof, giving it a grace and weightlessness that makes it not in the least incongruous. Housed within the Carrée d'Art is the excellent Musée d'Art Contemporain (Tues-Sun 11am-6pm), containing an impressive collection of French and Western European art of the last four decades. There is a roof-terrace café at the top, overlooking the Maison Carrée.

Though already a prosperous city on the Via Domitia, the main Roman road from Italy to Spain, constructed in 118 BC, Nîmes did especially well under Augustus. He gave the city its walls, remnants of which surface here and there, and its gates, as the inscription on the surviving Porte d'Auguste at the end of rue Nationale - the Roman main street - records. He also, indirectly, gave it the chained crocodile of its coat of arms. The device was copied from an Augustan coin struck to commemorate his defeat of Antony and Cleopatra after he settled veterans of that campaign on the surrounding land.

Running back east into the old quarter from the Maison Carrée, rue de l'Horloge leads to the delightful place aux Herbes , with two or three cafés and bars and a fine twelfth-century house on the corner of rue de la Madeleine. In the former bishop's palace, the Musée du Vieux Nîmes (daily 11am-6pm) has displays of Renaissance furnishings and decor and documents to do with local history. Opposite, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-St-Castor sports a handsome sculpted frieze on the west front, illustrating the story of Adam and Eve, and a pediment inspired by the Maison Carrée. It is practically the only existing medieval building in town, as most were destroyed in the turmoil that followed the Michelade, the St Michael's Day massacre of Catholic clergy and notables by Protestants in 1567. Despite brutal repression in the wake of the Camisard insurrection of 1702, Nîmes was, and remains, a doggedly Protestant stronghold. Apart from that, the cathedral is of little interest, having been seriously mutilated in the Wars of Religion and significantly altered in the last century. The author, Alphonse Daudet, was born in its shadow, as was Jean Nicot - a doctor, no less - who introduced tobacco into France from Portugal in 1560 and gave his name to the world's most popular drug.

Banned from public office, the Protestants put their energy into making money. The results of their efforts can be seen in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century hôtels they built in the streets around the cathedral - rues de l'Aspic, Chapitre, Dorée and Grande-Rue, among others. Their church is the serious-looking Grand Temple on boulevard Amiral-Courbet. On the same street, the Musée Archéologique and Muséum d´Histoire Naturelle (Tues-Sun 11am-6pm), housed in a seventeenth-century Jesuit chapel at no. 13, are full of Roman bits and bobs and stuffed animals. There's another museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts , south of the Arènes in rue de la Cité-Foulc (daily 11am-6pm; 28F/?4.27), which prides itself on a huge Gallo-Roman mosaic showing the Marriage of Admetus , but is otherwise pretty ordinary.

The interior of the Hôtel de Ville , between rue Dorée and rue des Greffes, has been redesigned by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, combining high-tech with classical stone. Most of the other major examples of revolutionary building are out on the southern edge of town: Jean Nouvel's pseudo-Mississippi-steamboat housing project off the Arles road behind the gare SNCF , named Nemausus after the deity of the local spring that gave Nîmes its name; and the magnificent sports stadium, the Stades des Costières , by Vittorio Gregotti, close to the autoroute along the continuation of avenue Jean-Jaurés.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing you can do while in Nîmes is head out to the Jardin de la Fontaine , France's first public garden, created in 1750, northwest of the centre at the top end of avenue Jean-Jaurés. Behind the formal entrance, where fountains, nymphs and formal trees enclose the so-called Temple of Diana , steps climb the steep wooded slope, adorned with grottoes and nooks and artful streams, to the Tour Magne (daily: July & Aug 9am-7pm; rest of year 9am-5pm), a 32-metre tower from Augustus' city walls, with a terrific view out over the surrounding country - as far, it is claimed, as the Pic du Canigou on the edge of the Pyrenees. At the foot of the slope flows the gloriously green and shady Canal de la Fontaine , built to supplement the rather unsteady supply of water from the fontaine , the Nemausus spring, whose presence in a dry, limestone landscape gave Nîmes its existence.

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