17 previous stages

Prefecture of Gard

Population: 154,200

Celebrities: Antoninus Pius (Roman emperor), Guillaume Apollinaire, Antoine Bigot (poets). Alphonse Daudet (writer), Jean Paulhan (French academician), Rabaut Saint Etienne (politician, wrote article 7 of the Declaration of Human Rights), André Chamson (French academician), Jean Bousquet (chairman of Cacharel and former mayor), Gaston Doumergue (former French president). Claude Viallat (painter), Simon Casas (writer, torero), Bernadette Lafont (actress), Régine Crespin (cantatrice), Marguerite Long (pianist), Julien Doré (chanteur), Aimé Maeght (gallery owner). Alain Montcouquiol aka Nimeño I and his brother Christian Nimeño II  (toreros), Marie Sara and Léa Vicens (toreros), Yannick Agnel (swimming Olympic champion), Virginie Razzano (tennis), Ludivine Furnon (gymnastics, European champion).

Specialities: brandade of Nîmes, Villaret croquants (dry cakes), picholine (AOC green olive), Nîmes olive oil (AOC), pâtés, gariguettes (strawberries), Costières de Nîmes (AOC wine). Jeans originated in Nîmes (Denim).

Sport: 36,000 members in more than 260 sport clubs, 60 disciplines and two major sports: handball (USAM) and football (Nîmes Olympique in L1). Events: international archery meeting (January 2019), Nîmes Urban Trail (February, 3ed edition), semi-marathon of Nîmes (March), La Nocturne (running, October). Cycling clubs: Nîmes cyclisme, Espoir Cycliste Nîmois, Groupe Cyclo Nîmois.

Economy: Tourism (1.8 million visitors in the town centre in 2018), biotechnologies (research on molecules and applications in medicine and genetics), Logistics (Prodis and Logidis), Industry (Perrier, Royal Canin, les Salins du Midi, Souleiado), Nîmes Camargue airport. Universities: 13,600 students.

Festivals: 2 ferias (1 million visitors in 2018), Flamenco festival in the theatre  (January), biography festival (January), British Screens Film Festival (March), RDV en Terre d’Aficion (bullfighting, March), Comics Biennale (March),  Grand Roman Games (May), Festival de Nîmes in the Arena (June and July), Nîmes Thursdays (summer, concerts, animations), Nîmes Open Game Art (December, video games and digital arts)

Websites and social networks: www.nimes.frwww.nimes-tourisme.comwww.laboucleromaine.frvivrenimes.fr / Facebook : @ville2nimes / Twitter : @nimes / Instagram : ville_de_nimes / You tube : ville de nimes

Museum of Romanity

The largest cultural project in the Occitanie region, launched in 2018, displays a permanent collection, a space for temporary exhibitions, a 3,500 sq. metres archaeological garden and a restaurant with a terrace offering a 360 degrees view. The museum received 160,000 visitors in its first six months of activity, as many as the expectations for a year. Jean-Paul Fournier, the mayor of Nimes, launched the project after the discovery of extremely rare mosaics during works on the Allées Jaurès. The permanent collection displays 5,000 items including the mosaics of Achilles and Pentheus. It conisits in a real time travel through the history of Nimes, from the 7th century BC to the Middle Ages thanks to an innovative presentation and new immersive technologies (augmented reality). From the entrance, the spectacular vestige of the fronton of a propylaea, entirely reconstituted, welcomes visitors and symbolises the gate leading to the spring that gave birth to the city. It is both the gateway into the museum and into the garden.

© Crédit Ville de Nîmes
Façade du Musée de la Romanité © Crédit Ville de Nîmes

The 17 Tour de France stages to finish in Nimes suited sprinters, and it was the case once again in 2014, when the race last came to town. Norway’s Alexander Kristoff outsprinted the bunch, who had just reined in New Zealand’s Jack Bauer, gone from the flag. In 2008, Nimes sealed the impressive run of success of an up and coming young sprinter named Mark Cavendish, who won his 4th and last stage of the edition before giving up two days later as the peloton tackled the Alps.

One of the very first visits of the Tour to Nimes, during the Marseille-Toulouse stage in 1904, remained in history. Furious after the disqualification of local favourite Ferdinand Payan, Nimes fans had thrown stones at the race. But the most famous legend associated with Nimes was the misfortune of Abdel-Kader Zaf, who crashed as he had broken away with Marcel Molines, went back on his bike and started the wrong way. The tale goes that he had accepted a bottle full of wine handed by spectators. The reality is probably less glamorous and the products absorbed by the man who finished “lantern rouge” that year wrer probably less local.

Nimes was also frequently visited by the defunct Grand Prix du Midi Libre and by Etoile de Besseges, one of the very first races of the season. In 2017, the Arena of Nimes was the launch-pad of the Vuelta.

It is considered the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world. Built in the first century, it was used in the Middle Ages as a fortified village.
The Arena of Nimes fully illustrate the degree of expertise reached by Roman engineers to conceive and build such complex buildings. It is indeed perfectly symmetrical. Of oval shape, it measures 133 metres in length and 101 in width with a track of 68 by 38 metres. It is also 21 metres in height, with two floors of 60 arcades and an attic. At the top, stones were equipped with masts supporting a huge velum protecting the crowds from the sun and rain. Originally, all the arcades or the first floor were open for a better flow of the public.
Today, the arena is the centrepiece of the Nimes ferias, with bullfights attriacting thousands of aficionados. In 2017, the venue hosted the Grand Depart of the Vuelta. Team BMC won the opening team time trial, ending the leader’s jersey to Rohan Dennis.

Maison Carrée (Square House)
Built in the early first century to honour the grandson and adoptive sons of Emperor Augustus, it was a part of the Forum, the administrative and economic heart of the ancient city. Restored in 2011, the square was refurbished in 1993 by Sir Norman Foster.

Tour Magne (Great Tower)
The octogonal tower was the highest and the most prestigious of the Roman ramparts at the time of Augustus and it was made of three floors on top of a basement. Today the third flloor has disappeared and the tower tops at 32 metres. It is the only remaining vestige of the Roman walls. It stands on the highest point of thz city, Mount Calaier, and dominates the plain.
It was originally a smaller oval tower in dry clay, already inegrated in the rampart. Both meant to impress and to celebrate, it marked the entrance of the sanctuary and protected the original oppidum.By doubling its height, Augustus marke the superiority of the Romans on the Volques tribe who lived on the site. It kept a military role since it was used in the defense of the city against the English during the Hundred Years War.

Carré d’Art Jean Bousquet
Some twenty years ago, a contemporary temple emerged in front of the ancient temple of Maison Career. Built by Sir Norman Foster, it is home to a library and a museum of modern arts. The transparent steel and concrete building is like an echo of the old Square House.
With nearly 400 works, the Carré d’Art displays a panorama of contemporary creation from the 1960s to now. Every year, temporary exhibitions are held on the second floor of the museum. On the first floor, the permanent collection regroups currents born in the South of France or Mediterranean Europe.

Les Arènes vues du ciel © Crédit Ville de Nîmes
© Crédit Ville de Nîmes
© Crédit Ville de Nîmes
© Crédit Ville de Nîmes
© Crédit Ville de Nîmes

Vincent Croizard: discreetly hidden in a small street (you must ring to get in), cit is the trendy restaurant in Nîmes. 17 rue des Chaissaintes. Tel: 04 66 67 04 99

The chef has lots of recipes on his blog, to be found here: www.restaurantcroizard.com

Assiette de jambon avec un verre de vin rouge © iStock / Getty Images Plus
© Crédit Ville de Nîmes
© Crédit Ville de Nîmes
© Crédit Ville de Nîmes
Arènes de Nîmes © GettyImages

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