The Arena of Nîmes

The Arena of Nîmes

The Arena of Nîmes also known as the Nimes Amphitheatre is a Roman amphitheatre in the French city of Nîmes. The Arena was built around 70 AD, it was remodelled in 1863 to serve as a bullring. The Arena of Nimes is the site of two annual bullfights, and is also used for other public events.

The Arena of Nîmes is the best preserved amphitheatre of the Roman world. A contemporary of the Colosseum in Rome,The Arena of Nîmes - Inside it provides an exceptional example of Roman civilisation. Built during the reign of the Emperor Augustus in the first century AD, Nimes Arena is a marvel of Roman engineering. A vast oval with a stunning facade resplendent with archways and ornamentation. The elliptical central space is 133 m long by 101 m wide. It is ringed by 34 rows of seats supported by a vaulted construction. Nimes Arena has the capacity to seat up to 24,000 people.

 The people of Nimes would sit according to their social status and watch the games.  These would range from animal hunts involving lions, tigers and even elephants to the famous gladiatorial matches. Executions were also  held at Nimes Arena in the form of those convicted to death being thrown to the animals.

The Arena of Nîmes GladiatorsEach area corresponded to a class of society, the closest terraces were reserved for the nobles and the terraces furthest away were for the ordinary people and the slaves. This ensured that their paths would not cross. Thanks to numerous inscriptions that are now preserved at the archaeological museum we know for example that the boatmen of the Rhone and the Saone had seats reserved for their corporation. The lowest terraces the imma cavea, were the best seats and were reserved for the honestiores, i.e. the town’s dignitaries and important people. The town’s citizens were seated in the intermediary terraces, the media cavea and the ordinary people and slaves watched the combatants from the upper terraces, the summa cavea.

At the beginning of the 12th century when the Languedoc region became part of France the building ceased to play a military role. The château fell under the ownership of the King of France and his representatives occupied it until the 14th century before moving to a new château built on the site of the “Porte d’Auguste” (the Augustus Gate). The abandoned amphitheatre was then handed over to private owners. The additional constructions that overburdened it (houses, the viscounts’ château, churches) remained in place until the end of the 18th century.

The idea of returning the Amphitheatre to its ancient glories dates from King François I. But at that time the constructions were merely cleared from the first floor gallery, leaving the chaos of houses that filled the Amphitheatre. In the 18th century, there were still some 150 houses with hundreds of people living in them. It was not until the early 19th century that the final houses were demolished and the architect Henri Revoil completed the restoration of the monument.

The audio-guided and illustrated tour lets visitors experience the gladiator shows and life in Roman times. The gladiator’s quarters presents the weapons and techniques of gladiatorial combat, and the Colours of the Bullfighting space introduces you to this world through the magnificent costumes of toreros.

The Arena of Nîmes