The great oval edifice that stands in downtown Nîmes does much to highlight both the brutality and beauty that was prevalent in the era of its construction – a dichotomy that some may argue is still in existence today.
Akin to its considerably more famous cousin in Rome, the Arena was once a site of the rather ruthless forms of entertainment favoured by citizens in 70 AD, including animal hunts, public executions and of course, gruesome gladiatorial games. Nowadays, crowd pleasing is still high on the agenda here, though it is mostly manifested in a more musical format, with gigs from artists such as Metallica and Bjork satiating the thirsty throng. More controversially, corrida de toros (bullfighting) and the increasingly popular abrivados (bull runs) occur onsite and occasionally spill out into the town, particularly during Pentecost when the Feria de Nîmes kicks off (this year, from June 4th – 9th).
Despite its refit for these modern pursuits, the amphitheatre itself is said to be even more impressive than the aforementioned Colosseum; an opinion held largely amongst previous visitors who have delighted in the significantly laxer rules regarding ‘interaction’ with the location. The freedom to explore is almost unlimited, and all from passing tourists to major antiquity buffs won’t fail to get a thrill from this more hands-on approach to exploring history.
Eager sightseers may wish to take a steep climb up the many rows of stepped seating in order to gaze across the city’s red tiled rooftops, and ponder (while having a well-deserved breather) which of the established social classes they might have fit in to during Augustus’ reign; the closer to the action, the better your public standing.
On entry, a free (and incredibly informative) audio guide is available, should you want to add the soundtrack of roaring crowds to your experience. Walk to the centre and strike a pose – though we’d probably recommend ‘rock god’ over ‘Roman Emperor’, just to be on the safe side.