Sunday, August 25, 2013

Nimes, France: One stop shopping for Gladiators!

By Mary Harrsch

Note: The following travel narrative about my visit to Nimes, France is based on My Trip Journal entries recorded during a trip I made to England and France in May 2013 with my companions, Richard and Cecelia White from Chatham, England.

I got up this morning with the bright Mediterranean sun shining through the slits around the window shutters. When we first got here I was wondering how I could get dressed in the morning with no curtains on the windows but then Richard showed me how to use the window shutters instead. So opening and closing the window shutters has become part of my morning and evening routine.

I made scrambled eggs for breakfast then we went for a walk around the farm property where

A french milk goat enjoying a lush spring pasture near
Sauve, France. Photo by  © 2013.
our cottage is located. Our hosts have a couple of milking goats so I tried to get some good pictures of them then we walked down the lane to an old converted mill by the river and I took pictures of it. 

An old olive oil mill renovated into a
near Sauve, France.  Photo by
© 2013
Our accommodations includes use of a very large and very clean swimming pool that is built out in a nearby field complete with a statue of Venus but it has only been in the high 60s and low 70s here (my kind of weather) so I doubt if the pool water is very warm.

Olympic sized swimming pool
 at our gite
 near  Sauve, France.
Photo by © 2013
After lunch we took off for Nimes. Nimes became part of the Roman Empire sometime before 28 BCE.  By the reign of Augustus in the 1st century CE Nimes had reached a population of 60,000.  

We found a car park in the center of town right beside the Place d'Assas with a very interesting sculpture of an almost Olmec-looking head at one end.

This sculpture by Martial Raysse created in
is said to represent the "male force" of
the city of Nimes, France.  Photo by
. © 2013
Designed by Martial Raysse in 1989, this head named Nemausus represents the male force of the town according to a reference I found on the web.  The water flowing between this head and another monumental head at the far end of the plaza represents Nemausa, the spring that gave Nimes its name. 

After a bit of a mixup we finally found our way to the Maison Carrée, a Roman temple originally constructed in 16 BCE. The structure was rebuilt by the famous Roman admiral, Marcus Agrippa (victor of Actium), in approximately 2 - 4 CE.  The temple was dedicated to his two sons, Gaius and Lucius, who had been adopted by his best friend Augustus so they would rule Rome one day.  However, both died tragically young (poisoned by Augustus' vile wife Livia if we believe Robert Graves' interpretation of events in "I, Claudius!") 

The Maison Carree, an example of Vitruvian architecture built
in 16 BCE now houses an information center and theater
in Nimes, France.
Photo by . © 2013
The structure is an example of architecture popularized by the famous Roman architect, Vitruvius.  It's beautiful Corinthian columns are topped with ornately carved acanthus leaves.

A pidgeon nestles into the protective acanthus
leaves sculpted on the capital of a Corinithian
column of the Maison Carrée
in Nimes, France.
Photo by  © 2013
The temple survived the widespread destruction of pagan centers of worship after Rome adopted Christianity because it was converted to a church.  In the years that followed it was subsequently converted to a meeting hall for the city's consuls, a canon's house and even a stable for government-owned horses during the French Revolution.  It now houses an information center and theater.

Inside we bought a three day pass for all of the surrounding historical sites for only 11 Euros. It included admission to a short 3-D movie about the history of Nimes that was very well done even though Cecelia, a medieval reenactor, made fun of the less than authentic fencing in one of the segments.

I thought the segment on gladiatorial fights was quite authentic with a properly attired Roman referee and a retiarius (net man with trident) and a Secutor battling it out with little blood spilled. Each time one of the gladiators was in danger of a mortal wound the referee would step in and separate the combatants. 

Finally one of the men went down and the referee looked to the crowd for a verdict and declared the victor without any further harm coming to his opponent. In historical times that type of encounter was far more common than the blood bath seen on the Starz' Spartacus: Blood and Sand series. The only thing that was not quite authentic was that the men were relatively svelt. In Roman times gladiators ate an almost vegetarian diet of barley gruel to put on a protective layer of fat and often appeared rather barrel-chested.

This Roman relief  found along the Via Appia near the tomb of Cecilia Metella
illustrates the well fed contours of arena combatants in the 1st century BCE
Photogaphed at the Terme di Diocleziano, Rome, Italy by  © 2009
The movie was shown inside the temple so after it ended we climbed down the rather steep stairs (I had Cecelia walk next to me so if I bobbled she could keep me from falling since I promised you all I would not fall on this trip!) and walked several blocks to the Roman amphitheater. 

A Roman amphitheater now serves
as a venue for bullfights
in Nimes, France.
Photo by  © 2013
Although several tiers of the structure are now missing, what remains is in very good condition. It is significantly smaller than the Coliseum in Rome, though. 

Once fortified by the Visigoths, the Nimes amphitheater was a target of destruction
by Charles Martel in 737 CE so only the lower tiers of the structure remain.
Photographed in Nimes, France by  © 2013
With the upper tiers of the structure missing I could not see any remnants of the supports for the sun shades that were usually extended to shade the spectators on a hot day. I also did not see any numbers carved into the stone above the various entry doors that matched tokens given to attendees to tell them which door to use so ingress and egress could be accomplished in a relatively short time.

Thankfully, although the sand of the arena was carefully raked in preparation for a contest, there were no bull fights scheduled today. When we explored the interior access tunnels we came upon a small museum displaying several ornate matador costumes. But that is the closest to bull fighting I would like to get.

Closeup of an ornately beaded jacket of a matador at the
small bullfighting museum inside the amphitheater
Nimes, France.  Photo by  © 2013
In the gift shop I bought my first kitchen shrine of the trip - a small snow globe containing a pair of battling gladiators atop a replica of the amphitheater. Each time I go on a trip I try to find a small souvenir that I can place on my kitchen window sill at home so when I'm cooking or washing dishes I can look at the souvenir and recall pleasant memories of a particular trip, so the snow globe fit the bill.

We stopped by a boulangerie (French bakery) on the way back to our cottage and I bought a couple of sweet rolls for evening dessert. We weren't totally tired yet so we decided to drive on in to Sauve and explore the old part of the village that is built on a steep hillside adjacent to the river Vidourle. 

Two French girls enjoy the late afternoon sun
on the banks of the Vidourle River in Sauve, France.
Photo by  © 2013
It was built centuries ago and has a bridge dating back to the 11th century along with remnants of fortifications, an oil mill, an abbey and convent. 

An olive oil mill converted to a private residence
in Sauve, France.  Photo by  © 2013
After exploring Sauve's narrow alleyways we finally returned to our cottage where Cecelia made us a delicious dinner of lamp chops, new potatoes and fresh green beans.

Tomorrow we plan to drive about an hour away to Orange and use our historical site pass to see their Roman remains that includes an ancient theater (for plays) and that medieval fortress we saw high on a rocky cliff when we were driving down on the motorway.

To see more of my images of France, visit my Flickr account!
Enhanced by Zemanta
Post a Comment