Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Provence -- Nîmes

 Roman Arena

Once in Nîmes we visited two more Roman buildings, the arena or amphitheater shown above and a Roman temple.  Originally built about 70 AD this arena was remodeled in 1863 so that it could be used as a bullring.   In 1989 a movable cover and a heating system were added.  

In the time of the Romans there were games and gladiators in this arena today it is still used for various public events, rock concerts and French bullfights.  There had been a bullfight the day before and a crew of workers with a forklift was cleaning up.  Unfortunately for us as tourists it meant that some areas under and behind the arena were off limits while the clean up was in progress so we didn’t get to see the places where the gladiators would have been suited up and waited for their turns in the ring. 

Arena ring

The arena is quite large the central space is not a perfect circle, more an oval shape 336 feet by 331 feet.  There are 34 rows of seats with a capacity of 16,300 spectators.  The original stone seats now have protective wooden boards on which to sit and walk to get to the other levels.  Narrow and not terribly comfortable seats to sit on but out of the wind and each seat seemed to have a good view.  Some of us were happy to learn that in French bullfighting the bull survives.  A ribbon or flower is attached to the bull’s horns and the object is to get the ribbon not to poke, prod, and stab the poor bull to death.  There is still considerable excitement and danger to the bullfighter, however, since these black bulls are very big and agitated. 

Arena corridor

Roman Temple

Our guide, Angelique, called this the “Square House” in English and then said it was neither square nor a house.  The French title is Maison Carrée, which I think means long (oblong) house.  It is a very well preserved Roman temple built around 16 BC.  One of the reasons it has survived the years in such good condition is that in the 4th century when many of these old temples were being destroyed it was rededicated and used as a Christian church.  It has been used as a meeting hall, a canon’s house, a stable for horses during the French Revolution, city archives storehouse, and after 1823 a museum.  Currently the small windowless interior is used to show tourist oriented 3-D films of Nîmes’ heroes and history.  If horses actually went up there it must have had a ramp for them to climb when it was being used as a stable because those steps are narrow and very steep.  I cannot visualize a horse climbing up or down them at all. 

Closer view of the Corinthian columns

Portico ceiling with rosettes and acanthus leaves relief carvings

Trivia:  The Virginia State capitol building is modeled after the Maison Carée.  Thomas Jefferson, who had been minister to France in 1785, had a stucco model of Maison Carée and he used that when he designed the Virginia capitol building.

Seal or logo of Nîmes

Every so often the sidewalks and streets would have these little seals either imbedded on the pavement or on the top of posts showing the symbol for Nîmes--the palm tree and the crocodile.  Mrs. Gimlet says that is because Nîmes was originally a Roman settlement populated by soldiers who had served in Egypt. 


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