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Stage town for the 20th time

Prefecture of Gard

Population: 154,850 (Nîmois), and 262,935 in the 39 communes of Nimes Métropole.

Personalities: Antoninus Pius (Roman emperor), Guillaume Apollinaire, Antoine Bigot (poets). Alphonse Daudet (writer), Jean Paulhan (academician), Jean-Paul Rabaut Saint Etienne (politician, author of article 7 of the Declaration of human rights), André Chamson (academician), Jean Bousquet (chairman of Cacharel and former deputy mayor), Gaston Doumergue (President of the Republic). Claude Viallat (painter), Simon Casas (writer, bullfighter), Bernadette Lafont (actress), Régine Crespin (singer), Marguerite Long (pianist), Julien Doré (singer), Aimé Maeght (gallery owner), Greg Delon (DJ). Alain Montcouquiol alias Nimeño I and his brother Christian Nimeño II (bullfighters), Marie Sara and Léa Vicens (bullfighters), Yannick Agnel (swimming, Olympic champion), Virginie Razzano (tennis), Ludivine Furnon (gymnast, European champion).

Specialities: brandade de Nimes, Villaret croquants (dry cakes), picholine (AOC green olive), Nimes olive oil (AOC), Nimes pâtés, gariguettes (strawberries), Costières de Nimes (AOC wine). Jeans originate from Nimes (Denim).

Sport: 36,000 members, over 260 sports associations, 60 sports, including 2 emblematic sports: handball (USAM) and football (Nimes Olympique).

Eventsinternational archery competition (January 2019), Nimes Urban Trail (February), Nimes half-marathon (March).

Cycling clubs: Nimes cyclisme, Espoir Cycliste Nîmois, Groupe Cyclo Nîmois.

Economy: Tourism (1.8 million visitors to the city centre in 2018), biotechnology (research into molecules and their applications in medicine and genetics), logistics (Prodis and Logidis), industry (Perrier, Royal Canin, Salins du Midi, Souleiado), Nimes Camargue airport. Universities: 13,600 students.

Festivals : Two férias (Pentecost and Vendanges) / Festival de la Bio (January) / Flamenco Festival (January) / Ramène tes mômes (February, young public) / British Screeens Fesrtival (March) / European Art and Crafts Days (April) / Roman Days (May) / Rendez-vous au jardin (June) / Conservatoire en fête (June) / Nimes Festival (June-July) / Les Jeudis de Nimes (July-August, concerts, entertainment, etc.) / Argentine Tango Festival (August) / Rencontres musicales de Nimes (August) / Feria des Vendanges (September) / Expo de Ouf (September) / Nimes Musical Autumn (September) / Architecture National Days (October) / Science Festival (October) / Da Storm festival Tout simplement Hip hop (October) / Les Volques Festival (December)

Signature: Nimes, the city with an accent

Labels: Tour de France cycling city / City of art and history / 4-flower city in bloom / National tree award / 5@ internet city / Child-friendly city / WHO health city / Vivez-Bougez city / Marianne d'Or sustainable development award (Hoche eco-neighbourhood) / Tourist office classified First Category / 2nd prize in the 2018 lighting competition (for the gardens of the Fontaine) / Active and sporty city 2017-2018 / UNESCO World Heritage site (Maison Carrée)

Websites / social networks: www.nimes.fr / https://www.nimes-tourisme.com / www.laboucleromaine.fr / vivrenimes.fr / Facebook : @ville2nimes / Twitter : @nimes / Instagram : ville_de_nimes / Youtube : ville de nimes


NIMES AND CYCLING

The 19 stages of the Tour de France that finish in Nimes have often been won by sprinters, although the race's final visit went an escapee, solid German Nils Politt, who won solo at the foot of the arena.  In 2019, Caleb Ewan won his second stage of the Tour de France here, following his victory in Toulouse five days earlier. In 2014, close to the Costières stadium, Norway's Alexander Kristoff won the final stage of the race, controlling a peloton that had just caught New Zealander Jack Bauer, who had broken clear from the start. 2008 saw the revelation on the Tour of the extraordinary talent of Isle of Man speedster Mark Cavendish. The Briton, who has now won 34 stages in the Grande Boucle, claimed his fourth victory in Nimes, and his last in that Tour, which he was to abandon two days later as it approached the Alps. That day, 'Cav' won ahead of Australian Robbie McEwen and Frenchman Romain Feillu. After 17 years without hosting a finish, Nimes was used as a rest stage during the 2003 Tour, the centenary year. One of the very first stages to pass through the town, in 1904, is still famous: unhappy at the disqualification of their favourite, Ferdinand Payan, the Nimes supporters pelted the peloton with stones! But the most beautiful legend of the Tour forged in Nimes was that of Abdel-Kader Zaaf, who escaped with Marcel Molinès, and who, after a fall, set off again in the opposite direction of the race. The story went that he had accepted a flask of wine handed to him by spectators. The reality is certainly more prosaic and the products ingested by the future red lantern of the Tour less natural. The town was also a frequent stage for the now-defunct Grand Prix du Midi Libre, as well as the season-opening Etoile de Bessèges. In 2017, the bullring was the venue for a particularly successful Grand Départ of the Vuelta.


SIGHTS:

  • Arena of Nimes

Built1st century BC

Style: Roman amphitheatre.

History: this imposing building was built to host shows, the most popular of which was gladiatorial combat. After these fights were banned in 404, the Visigoths transformed the arena into a fortress. During periods of insecurity, the population took refuge within the walls of the building, which was then used as a fortified village, containing two churches, 220 houses and a small castle. During a visit to Nimes in the early 16th century, Francis I was moved by the state of the building and unsuccessfully recommended that it be restored. The restoration of the arena was finally ordered by royal decree on 28 March 1786. This involved destroying the houses inside. During the Second Empire, a vast rehabilitation campaign was carried out.

Characteristics: This is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. The Arena illustrates the degree of perfection achieved by Roman engineers in the design and construction of this highly complex type of building. It is perfectly symmetrical. Oval in shape, it is 133 metres long and 101 metres wide, with a track measuring 68 by 38 metres. Measuring 21 metres high, its exterior façade has two storeys of 60 superimposed arcades and an attic, separated by a cornice. At the top, projecting stones with holes in them held masts from which a velum was hung, an immense canvas spread over the spectators to protect them from the sun and bad weather. Originally, all the arcades on the ground floor were open to serve as entrances or exits.

Current destination: today, the arena is the heart of the Nimes ferias, where bullfights bring together thousands of aficionados. In 2017, it was the setting for the Grand Départ of the Vuelta. The BMC team won the team time-trial that preceded it, handing the leader's jersey to Rohan Dennis.

Listed as: Historical Monument since 1840. 

  • Musée de la Romanité (Roman Civilisation Museum)

Opening: 2018

History: Jean-Paul Fournier, Mayor of Nimes, was behind this initiative, which followed the discovery of some extremely rare mosaics during excavations on the Allées Jaurès. The museum welcomed 160,000 visitors in the 6 months following its opening.

Characteristics: the largest cultural project in the Occitanie region features a permanent collection, a temporary exhibition space, a 3,500 m2 archaeological garden and a restaurant with a green terrace. The permanent collection comprises 5,000 items, including the Achilles and Pentheus mosaics. At the entrance, a spectacular remnant of a propylaeum pediment, fully restored and reconstructed, stands 15 metres above the ground, symbolising the entrance to the sanctuary of the spring that gave birth to the city.

  • Maison Carrée

Last September, the Maison Carrée in Nimes became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was revenge for the city of Nimes, which had not succeeded in having all the city's Roman sites accepted by the UN body in 2018.

Dating from 1st century BC, it is dedicated to Caius and Lucius Caesar, grandson and adopted son of the Emperor Augustus, and is the only temple in the ancient world to have been completely preserved. Inspired by the temples of Apollo and Mars Ultor in Rome, Maison Carrée captivates visitors with its harmonious proportions. It is 26-metres long, 15-metres wide and 17-metres high. It is one of the expressions of the new power established by Augustus. Around him, an imperial family was organised and places where public authority was expressed were established. Monuments, inscriptions, statues and portraits, as well as elements of architectural decoration, each use their own language to describe the actions and future of the new regime.

Maison Carrée owes its exceptional state of preservation to its uninterrupted use since the 11th century. It has been used in turn as a consular house, stable, flat and church. After the French Revolution, it became the headquarters of the Gard's first prefecture, before being converted into the departmental archives.

  • Gardens of the Fountain

Built: 1745

History and characteristics: situated on a hill, the gardens of La Fontaine were created on a 15-hectare historic and natural site. Europe's first public garden, it is made up of two types of landscaped architecture: an 18th-century classical garden and a Mediterranean landscape garden. At the request of King Louis XV, Jacques Philippe Mareschal (King's Engineer, Director of Fortifications for the Provinces of Languedoc) designed the garden. The initial plan for several terraces was never completed. In the early 19th century, mayor Augustin Cavalier set about developing the hill and gave it its name. Paths were laid out, allowing walkers to discover different settings, such as the rock-style grotto. At the end of these paths, a remarkable monument dominates the garden: Tour Magne. Since then, many new areas have been created to enhance the garden, including the rock garden, a clever mix of rocks and Mediterranean plants, the Montgolfier pond with its aquatic plants, and the Mazet garden.

Listed as a Historic Monument since 1840. Remarkable garden.

  • Tour Magne (Magne Tower)

History: There are many hypotheses as to the original purpose of the tower. In Roman times, as part of the enclosure, it could have played a defensive role as well as a watchtower or signal tower. By doubling its height, the Romans were also demonstrating their power.

Characteristics: octagonal, the tallest and most prestigious of the towers in the Augustan Roman enclosure had three storeys above a basement. Today, the top storey has disappeared and the tower stands at 32-m high. The Magne Tower, or the great tower, is the only vestige of the ancient Augustan city walls. It stands on the highest point of the city, Mont Cavalier, dominating the entire plain and attracting all the communication routes. It has an octagonal base, the irregularity of which can be explained by the shape of the dry-stone tower it enclosed. This can still be seen inside the tower, in negative. An angled ramp, 70 m long, the start of which still remains to the south and part of the last arch, led to the covered walkway that ran along this first floor. From there, it was possible to join the curtain wall. Access to the terrace, which originally crowned the whole, was then via a 132-step staircase inside the tower. The last two levels were decorated, one with Tuscan pilasters and the other, which has almost entirely disappeared, with columns.

Listed as: Historical Monument since 1840.  

  • Carré d'Art Jean Bousquet

Opening: 1993 Carré d'Art Jean Bousquet was designed by Lord Norman Foster as a contemporary temple facing the ancient temple of the Maison Carrée. Bringing together a library, media library and contemporary art museum on the same site, it is just like the Centre Pompidou. With almost 400 works, the Carré d'Art collection offers a panorama of contemporary art from the 1960s to the present day. Every year, temporary exhibitions of international standing are organised on the second floor of the museum. On the first level, the permanent collection brings together art movements that originated in the south of France and Europe. These movements fall into three categories: art in France, Mediterranean identity and the art of Anglo-Saxon countries.


TO EAT:

  • Nimes brandade

Brandade is a Nimes speciality made with cod or, more precisely, hake, which was the name given to salted and dried hake, a fish caught in the Mediterranean, before becoming the local name for cod. The story goes that a woman from Nimes came up with the idea of grinding the cod meat in a stone mortar, diluting it and mixing it with the fragrant oil from the surrounding garrigues. This new dish was called brandade, from the word brandado, which means "stirred" in Provençal. Brandade was first mentioned in 1788, in the Encyclopédie méthodique. It states that the hake are cut into pieces and placed in a frying pan with finely chopped garlic. Oil is added little by little, and "by force of arms should bind with the garlic paste and the fish". It would be an exaggeration to speak of Nimes as the birthplace of brandade... though! Brandade was born from the combination of three ingredients that could only be found in Nimes: sea salt harvested fifty kilometres away, local hake later replaced by cod, and olive oil, which is abundant here. It also owes its success to the social structure of this industrious town from the 17th to the 19th century when the recipe was popularised.

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