The most amazing Roman monuments hidden in France

Nimes and Pont du Gard will stun you…

Did you know that picture-perfect romantic French Provence, whose sunflower and lavender fields inspired legendary impressionists like Van Gogh is also home to two of the most jaw-dropping, magnificent Roman structures in the world? And one day is all you need to gawp at their architectural splendour.

IMG_1999 copy.jpg
Van Gogh’s obsession for Provence shows in all his paintings

History buff alert. Surely, medieval ‘French Vatican’ town of Avignon is on your radar for its two stunning landmarks…the Roman-styled 14th century old Palace of the Popes and the arched bridge, Pont St Benezet stretching across the river Rhone. (Read my related post on ‘Do you know who was madly jealous of the Popes’ powerful palace’ http://bit.ly/2mQlbse). If you have an extra day in Avignon, then grab the opportunity to explore two  exemplary Roman monuments, just 50 km within your reach.

Head first to the bustling city of Nimes, which used to be an important textile centre from the middle ages to the late 19th century. Interesting side factoid: Nimes was famed for a special blue cotton cloth ‘de Nimes’. No prizes for guessing where it ended up? In America, with Levi Strauss, for use as ‘denim’. So, thanks to this lesser known Roman town of France, today we have jeans!

Nimes was actually built by Julius Caesar as a retirement home for veteran soldiers after the fall of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra in Egypt. No surprise that it is dotted with several impressive Roman structures, including the famous Square House (Maison Carree), fabulous Roman gardens, fountains, baths, the Temple of Diana and many neo-Roman churches. All testimony to the remarkable building skills of the ancient Romans under the supervision of Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus and the foremost construction engineer of those times. Spend a few hours exploring all these if you can.

DSC_1214.jpg

But what you’re really here for is the city’s proudly displayed centrepiece…the best preserved colosseum in the world! Surprised? Built in the 1st century AD, with the capacity to seat 24,000 spectators, this masterpiece stands erect in one piece, minus the sliced facade of the one in Rome. And its no less awe-inspiring.

DSC_1221.jpg

DSC_1202.jpg

Equipped with an audio guide, you will easily lose yourself in the tour for a couple of hours. There are no gates, just 60 open welcoming arches, all around the circumference on two levels for easy access to the upper level terraces through multiple corridors, galleries and exit stairs. Admission to the arena used to be free, as the Romans wanted to openly encourage a lifestyle of amusement for all. Well, that certainly helped to keep the crowds hooked then. And the tradition continues today…the colosseum is now a bullring! Two annual bullfights ares staged right here during the Feria de Nîmes. Barbaric custom or cultural heritage…the debate continues to rage.

DSC_1198

Mammoth stone pillars support the 60 arches, there are no signs of concrete having being used. The steps going up to the higher levels are worn out, the smooth depressions signal wear and tear over the centuries. Who was the first person to leave his footsteps here, you wonder…does your foot fall exactly where his had once? At the second tier, you may need to shade your eyes from the intense, brilliant sunlight, as you ogle at the 360-degree view. Try counting the rows of stone benches encircling the structure at multiple levels…which seat would you choose?

DSC_1207.jpg

DSC_1219.jpg

Visualise a toga-clad crowd, cheering wildly as drivers guide their chariots with fiery energy around the ring below. Go to the very top for an even more rewarding view of the complete colosseum and the sprawling city of Nimes. Imagine the architectural prowess of the ingenious Romans. Even in those ancient times, they had devised a retractable roof for the arena…a vellum canopy spread out over the tiers of seats; the holes for the canopy’s poles are still visible.

DSC_1203.jpg

DSC_1213.jpg

Later, stroll into the two museum sections: Gladiator’s Quarters and the “Colours of the Corrida” to study the costumes, fighting gear, pictures and short film sequences of gladiators and matadors. Try to analyse your emotions, while you dive into the past, when entertainment had a sadistic flavour and human primal instincts were glorified.

DSC_1215.jpg

As you walk out, consider this. Driven by the need to fulfil Nimes’ increasing need for water for its Roman baths and irrigation, Caesar ended up accomplishing another incredible feat: a 50-kilometre long canal, supplying over forty million gallons of water each day to Nimes. And the world’s most impressive three-tier stone aqueduct crossing the Gardon river valley. Pont du Gard, a one-of-a-kind UNESCO heritage site, about 3o km away, is your next stop.

The Pont du Gard park complex is a haven for nature lovers…hiking, cycling, horse-riding or canoeing…pick your poison. Or simply amble along from the visitors’ centre out to the ‘pont’ (bridge) to marvel at the impeccable construction, in the backdrop of an enchanting river valley.

DSC_1279

DSC_1289.jpg

The massive bridge is 274 meters in length and 49 meters high. At the top of the edifice is a covered pipeline. Although, no longer a functioning aqueduct bridge, the very fact that it is still standing is testament to the outstanding skills of its builders. Not only is this the highest and most impressive of all the Roman aqueduct bridges, it is also one of the best preserved. Cross the walkway on the second tier, pausing to touch the massive mortar-free arches. Reflect on the impeccable precision of the massive engineering project.

DSC_1284.jpg

DSC_1299.jpg

The rays of the early evening sun play hide and seek through the arches of the Pont du Gard. The bridge will be completely awash in golden sunshine, as the sun kisses the soft yellow complexion of the limestone blocks. Sit by the banks, watching the gleaming, twinkling smooth pebbles on the river side and listening to the peaceful trickle of the water. You will find yourself taking unending pictures of its every arch and every angle, until it is time to bid this Roman remnant ‘adieu’. And in the fading glow of the dusk, it will dawn upon you… this is France, not Rome.

DSC_1296.jpg

DSC_1304.jpg

134 thoughts on “The most amazing Roman monuments hidden in France

  1. Avignon is beautiful and the history of Pope palace and the Avignon bridge is indeed intriguing. Unfortunately we could not make it further to Nimes. It is interesting to know that jeans have its origin in Nimes. Colosseum has been one of our favorite Roman architecture and visiting its replica in France would be an awesome experience. Your captures of Pont du Gard is absolutely stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There really are a lot of hidden historical sights in France. I can really imagine that there is a lot in Avignon, considering the cities historical influence. I really love traveling to places like this, seeing the old arenas or the aqueducts. It has mostly been old castles recently, but seeing the remnants of the Roman Empire would be nice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am going to Southern France this may so the Pont du Gard is definitely on my ‘to see’ list. And will definitely check the arena on the way, thanks for the tip!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, love the history tidbits you included with the photos. I’d love to visit Avignon now, I didn’t previously know of the Roman monument part of the city, I had just thought it was a cute place to see. Also amazing that Pont du Gard is actually in France…it definitely looks like it belongs in Rome. You captured it beautifully though!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What beautiful photographs! I think many people only visit Paris when they come to France and they’re completely missing out! There’s so much to see and do. I’ve been living in France for 8 months and haven’t been to this area, but I never knew about the Roman influence! Very informative, thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your pictures are stunning. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It was a trip down memory lane for me, I visited Avignon and Pont du Gard about 30 years ago. You could walk along the top of the Pont du Gard then, I wonder if they still allow this? I haven’t been to Nimes but I seem to remember an ampitheatre at Arles. It’s a stunning part of France and one I am keen to return to. Thanks so much for your fabulous post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had no idea there was a colosseum in France, it looks like a great place to visit. I have been to a few and they are always impressive to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is so up my street, I’m such a history nerd and love visiting historical landmarks everywhere I travel. Nimes and Pont du Gard looks amazing. Had no idea about the Van Goph connection. I really should as he is one of my favourite artists haha! I would definitely love to visit this area of France 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was in Avignon and Nimes years ago. You absolutely do have to remind yourself you are in France! I’m still amazed how well-kept the Pont du Gard is for its age and having been exposed to the elements all these years. You’ve made me want to plan a return trip to Provence. I just loved it there!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We visited here over ten years ago and this just brought back so many great memories! We visited Chateauneuf du Pape when we were in the area also… ah memories. France is wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A fascinating post that brings alive the lost glory of the Romans. It is intriguing to note that beneath the classic elegance of France nestles the vestiges of Roman grandeur and magnificence. The colosseum is indeed a revelation and I could almost hear the clank of swords as I read through your post. Now I know where I will head to next time in France,

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Who knew? I certainly didn’t know there was Roman ruins in France. I enjoy your writing style and bringing your readers inside, to image the historical past. Thanks for sharing,

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Learned something from this blog… Provence is for lavender plantation, now I know that there are sunflower plantation here as well… 🙂 and those Roman architecture, I would say its Italy or Jordan 🙂 🙂 Now, I know that Roman monuments are also in France…thanks,

    Liked by 1 person

  14. That is stunning! Beautiful architecture. For one second, I thought it was in Rome, Italy. I didn’t realise that this beauty is located in France. Absolutely magnificent! Thanks for sharing this. Another reason to visit France!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wonderful story! It’s curious how european cultures are mixed all over the continent. The Bridge is astonishing and is definitely something worth of visiting on our road trip through France! And who would guess that there is a better colosseum than the one in Roma! Thanks for the useful tipps! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. A very nice writeup. We often talk about some monuments and glorify them, while forget about the rest. I never knew there was a colosseum and also such a well built and well maintained one. It never appears even in the searches when you look for what all places to visit!! I will try to take out time and visit some of these on my Europe trip

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Awesome. And all these in Avignon? Damn I missed this one in my last trip. I have always enjoyed the Roman ruins and this colosseum definitely seems to be in a better shape than the one in Rome. Got to head here.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I had no idea there was a Colosseum in France! What a great find and thanks for sharing! The architecture is incredible and it’s just amazing to be able to walk through such a slice of history!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. What amazing ruins! The Romans certainly were gifted at architecture. I’ve seen Roman ruins in Marseille, but not in Nimes or Pont du Gard. I’ll have to go the next time I am in Provence!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. All these Roman monuments look quite fascinating. The architecture of colosseum looks magnificent. All your pictures are beautiful and speak for themselves how beautiful Roman architecture is!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. We’ve never heard of this Colosseum before but it looks amazing. I bet it has less of a line up to get in that the one in Rome and it looks just as nice. It’s amazing what cool places you can find off the beaten track.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I actually always thought there was only one colosseum in the world (in Rome) – it wasn’t until I traveled to Verona that I found out there were more. And now one in France also? Amazing! Beautiful photos and thanks for sharing these architectural gems!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I actually had zero idea there were these kinds of things in France. I have been there so many times and it never occurred to me once. I never bothered to look it up either. But next time I am there these are so high on my list! It looks super beautiful and super well maintained.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. There are so many hidden gems in France. The Colosseum came as a big surprise for me and equally interesting is that jeans have its origin in Nimes. Your shots are incredible. Loved your post and want to know more in the next. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Beautiful photos! I’m surprised that most of people have no clue you can find such marvels outside of Rome or Italy, but the Roman Empire was huge! Actually, the best preserved ancient Roman sites are not at the Forum Romanum in Rome! You can see sites like this in France, Croatia, Turkey, Lebanon, Libya, Algeria, Jordan and even… Ukraine! Places you wouldn’t associate with Italy or Rome 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s