In the Footsteps of Gladiators: Nîmes Amphitheatre

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Arena of Nîmes, Arènes de Nîmes, Nîmes, France

One of the finest surviving amphitheatres from the Roman world, the Arena, as it’s called locally, is an astonishing structure.  If you have been lucky enough to have seen the Colosseum in Rome, then you’ll see similarities: they are both grand, yet quite dinky, they are both insanely photogenic and they both help to define their cities.

And they both witnessed some of the most hideous types of blood-sport ever.

The amphitheatre was built in c70 AD (about the same time as the Colosseum in Rome), and could have seated 24,000 spectators.  The shows that they would have seen would have been basically to do with fighting: gladiators, animals, a tantalising combo of Christian versus lion, that sort of thing.

In some ways its post-Roman history is more interesting: the amphitheatre was turned into a fortress by the Viscount of Nîmes in 1194, and eventually the site became a type of enclosed community.  By the 18th century there were about 700 residents and two churches and it wasn’t until the 19th century that the last houses were cleared out, allowing for the amphitheatre to be restored.  When it opened in 1863, it was used as a bullring, and the Arena continues to host the Feria de Nîmes, during which bullfights are still held.

Actually, there’s not much to say about the Arena.  In fact, there’s not really much to see once you’ve walked the corridors and sat in the seats.  There is a tiny exhibition on gladiators, with a few reproduction costumes, and another exhibition on bullfighting, which I skipped, and that’s basically it.

To be honest, I was a little surprised that items relating to the Arena which are on show in the Museum next door, weren’t actually based here.  It would make more sense, giving you a chance to see more in the Arena and freeing up valuable space in the museum which could be taken up with objects in storage.

So In Summary

I didn’t love the experience of visiting the Arena.  I loved being there and seeing it and exploring, but I felt the overall experience lacked something.  As it was I felt a little… not ripped off exactly, but not satisfied either.  I can’t really explain why.  Maybe it was just me.

Anyway, it is a must-visit of the city, and definitely worth seeing.  Not that I didn’t like it there – because I did.  It really is very beautiful, and would be an awesome place to see a concert, which is something they were going to have on the very day we visited.  But… I don’t know… I don’t mean to be down on it.   It’s probably just because I’ve been spoilt by other Roman sites.

Further Information

Since 2005, Culturespaces has been in charge of the amphitheatre, the Maison Carrée and the Tour Magne.  For this reason you can get a group ticket for those three sites, but you can pay extra to get the Roman Museum included.

The venue also hold concerts quite regularly, and once a year have “Gladiatorial Games”.  Now that I’d love to see.

How To Get There

The Arena is easy to walk to from the train station.  We didn’t use any transport on the day we went, but if you want to look at the local buses, this is their website (French only):

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