How to discover Nîmes without visiting its arena? Located in the city center, they are indeed the most emblematic monument of the city and for good reason: built in the 1st century of our era, the Arena of Nîmes crossed the ages and still offer us today!
By visiting this wonder, it's hard not to be moved by thinking of everything that has happened, from gladiatorial battles to contemporary shows. But we are also surprised by the intelligence of its structure that has little to envy to the current venues. 24,000 spectators could hurry and their movements had been skilfully anticipated!
The architecture of the Arena of Nîmes
Vitruvius, Roman architect of the first century, established a very precise and technical architectural treatise De architectura, dedicated to the emperor Augustus. It exposes in particular the principles of construction of such an arena:
Numerous and large passages will have to be arranged in such a way that those above do not meet with those below; that everywhere they are direct, without interruption, without detours, so that the people, on leaving the spectacles, should not be in too much of a hurry, and can on all sides find separate exits which facilitate their exit.
To meet these principles, the cavea (stands) is divided into 60 spans of 34 rows of seats, divided into four levels. These levels were assigned according to social classes: The first ranks for people in the upper classes; The last for the most modest (corresponding to what was later called, poetically, Paradise). Galleries encircling the bleachers make it easy to walk from one floor to another and from one bay to another.
If this structure resembles the design of several recent rooms, we note however that the arenas of Nîmes have only few decorative elements without the monument yet suffers from this absence: The size of the building is enough to impress.
A place of spectacles become fortress
From the fifth century, with the ban of gladiatorial fighting, the Visigoths decided to turn the bullring into a fortress. To do this they just have to fill the arcades, dig a ditch and add towers.
In the Middle Ages, the population goes so far as to establish a fortified village within it, composed of 220 dwellings, two churches and even a castle! Such a concentration could only be achieved at the cost of insalubrity and the dismantling of part of the arena whose steps served as a stone quarry.
The restoration of the Nîmes Arena began in the late eighteenth century: The embellishment of the city lead to homes located inside or just around the arena. Suspended a time during the Revolution, the work of recovery resumed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the restoration of the bullring will only begin again in the second half of the century.
The Arena of Nîmes today
The arenas have found their first use by offering many shows. If of course the gladiator fights are gone, reenactments "Great Roman Games" are offered each year. There are also regular bullfights - the statue of Nimeño II (French matador, 1954 - 1991) in front of the arena reminds him. And several concerts are also given throughout the year.
Since 2009, a new campaign of restoration of the arches is in progress, span by span. It should be completed in 2034. Exploited by Culturespaces, the arenas are discovered outside periods of free visits with audioguide or guided tour. For a more playful visit, an escape game is proposed all year long for 5 € in addition to the entrance ticket. Take advantage of your visit to Nîmes to discover the young neighbor of the Arena, the Museum of Romanity.