Monday, October 22, 2012



The Roman amphitheatre in Nimes is the best preserved in the world and it is still in use for major cultural events. Nimes has been on our list of must-see places for some time. We did the full tour with headsets, we got our money's worth and more.

Nimes is only a short drive up from where we were staying in the Camargue. It was a terrific day trip: the arena in the morning followed by a great lunch in Place de la Marché, then a good long ramble around the old part of town.

The Roman arena is actually  two facing amphitheatres.

Spain brought bullfighting to this area in the 11th/12th Centuries. 
"amphitheatre" then came to be called "arena" which in Latin means "sand".

Arles nearby, has both an arena and an amphitheatre, restored and still in use  for bullfighting, concerts and other events.

The Nimes Arena is among the 20 largest of the 400 Roman arenas still in existence. Its seating capacity is 24,000. BC Place Stadium, back home in Vancouver, is not a whole lot larger. Its seating capacity is almost 60,000 for (American) football and 21,000 for soccer. 

Vomitorium leading into arched corridors.

After the fall of Rome, Nimes and the surrounding regions were ruled by various different invaders and finally, by the 13th Century, it became a centre dominated by the Catholic christians and ruled by the crown of France: King Louis lX (St. Louis).

During the 16th Century Wars of Religion in France (Protestants versus Catholics)  Nimes was more or less a Protestant stronghold.

The image of the cathedral on the right is taken through an arrow slot in the arena.


Our travels through Europe on this and other trips have been like peering through a looking glass at the widespread architectural and infrastructure accomplishments of the Roman Empire. We have been walking in the footsteps of a people whose contributions to human development have outlasted many of the legacies of the various cultures that followed them. 

There have been numerous theories about the fall of the Empire, and historians have commented on the many contradictions in Roman society: democracy with slavery, the absence of freedoms for the average Mario and Belladonna,  the morality issues of blood sport in the amphitheatres ...

The Roman arenas were used to entertain the masses. Hunters fought wild animals. Convicts were given over to the tigers for more bloodsport. The carnage was diabolical and the audiences were often mortified.

Note the "vomitorium" above. The latin word means "stairs connected with seating", but another meaning seems more apt ...

Chariot races were also common, especially in the bigger arenas like Circus Maximus and the Colliseum in Rome.

The sport of gladiatorial combat was the most athletic and the most glorious. The combatants were volunteers, well trained and highly skilled. This is where heroes were made.

The gladiator seen above is the Hoplomaque from 1st Century BC.

the Thrace 

the Rétiare

the Trident

the Scissor

the Mirmillon 

the Sécutor 

the Provocator 

The armour and weapons of these hellish warriors improved over time. Actually, the records show that  Mr. Hoplomaque and Mr. Thrace appeared in the 1st Century BC.

Scissorhands (way predecessor to Edward) was very effective against Mr. Trident, whose net met it's nemesis against Mr. Sss.

Captain Mermillon and Papa Provocator did not appear until the end of the Republic.

Serious dudes, all this guys!

Life expectancy of the gladiator was in the late twenties.


We leave the arena and walk around the old town
Following are some photos. The Nîmois ignore us because they, like all the French people in these tourist centres of interest, are used to camera-happy foreigners and take little or no interest in us. But not so at the family run Lebanese restaurant where we lined up to lunch. One of the two daughters who were serving had just come back home to Nimes after living a couple of years in Montreal. She could not renew her visa. Mother is the amazing chef. Dad is in the picture below. The family wants to move to Canada to start a restaurant there. Their English is good. They just cannot afford what Canada will charge them to immigrate and start their business - about $800,000!

Lebanese lunch

Sainte Eugénie Cathedral
After lunch I lay down, looked up and saw the light, obscured ...

... but Lord how I have sinned
(this is really hard on the neck)

children the world over
we see these little urchins everywhere
they are the colour
they are the light
they make smiles
they create laughter
we miss our own
special ones

For more travel photography with local information visit my website.

Gary Karlsen's photography website

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