One of the most fascinating things about the French department of Gard in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon is that 2,000 years after the Romans first arrived, their visual and cultural imprint is still omnipresent. In 118 B.C., the Romans built the Via Domitia, a road that connected Italia with Hispania (Spain). It was begun around the time of the first Roman colony in Gaul, Colonia Narbo Martius, which is now known as Narbonne. The Via Domitia allowed Rome to control the whole of southern Gaul and to distribute land to Roman colonists. The A9, the main modern highway in the region, mostly follows this original Roman road.
Gard was inhabited by Celtic tribes when the Romans occupied the region. Recognizing the strategic importance of a well-watered Celtic settlement called Nemausus, they immediately went about rebuilding it as a Roman city, today known as Nîmes. The Celtic settlement’s sacred spring became a sanctuary consecrated to the Emperor Augustus. Colonia Augusta Nemausus (Nîmes) was honored with a coin engraved with the abbreviation “Col Nem” and a design of a crocodile chained to a palm tree. They are still entwined on the city’s coat of arms.
Under the reign of Augustus, Nîmes was provided with running water, sewers and all the infrastructure necessary to sustain a growing and increasingly prosperous town. As a reflection of the emperor’s affection, he ordered the construction of the two-tiered amphitheater in A.D. 70. Seating 24,000 spectators, the Arènes de Nîmes is still in regular use.
Nîmes’s newest architectural icon, the Musée de la Romanité, designed by Brazilian-born architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, opened in June 2018. It houses the city’s superb collection of ancient Roman art and stands across the street from the Arènes de Nîmes.
Here are other Roman ruins and monuments that should not be missed on a trip to Gard.
These 30 acres of shady and beautifully landscaped formal gardens on the northwestern edge of the old town of Nîmes were designed in 1745 on the orders of King Louis XV. Following a visit to Nîmes, he wanted the city’s Roman ruins to be displayed in a natural setting. Their highlight is the first-century Temple of Diana.
This octagonal stone tower on the northern edge of Les Jardins de la Fontaine is the most important surviving part of the Roman walls that once surrounded Nîmes. Deliberately built at the highest point of the city, it offers superb views.
Built during the second century, this is one of the best-preserved Roman temples in Europe and was once part of the city’s forum. La Maison Carrée stands in striking contrast to the adjacent Carré d’Art, a contemporary art museum and municipal library designed by Norman Foster in 1993 and constructed of steel and glass.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pont du Gard, a magnificent three-tiered stone aqueduct, with 52 arches, was built across the Gardon river during the second half of the first century to link the source of the Eure river (near Uzès) to Nîmes. It supplied the city with water at a flow rate of 106 gallons per second.