In the big cities of the Roman Empire, the arena or the amphitheatre was the place for the epic shows.
Symbol of a city's prestige, the amphitheatres always drew large crowds. The arena of Nîmes, along with the one in Arles and the Colosseum of Rome, is one of the most well preserved from the ancient past. After being the venue for the Roman games, it today hosts bullfights during the Féria.
The arena's shape is elliptical, 133 metres long and 101 metres wide with a height of 21 metres. Sixty arches cover each of the two levels and are surmounted by an attic. The central ring (69m by 38m) is encircled by 34 rows of seats that can accommodate 20,000 people. Beneath the seating, a network of concentric galleries lead to the different levels by way of 126 staircases.
Aerial view of the amphitheatre of Nimes
Illuminations of the amphitheatre of Nîmes
Corrida (bullfight) in the Arena of Nîmes
The galleries in the amphitheatre of Nîmes
Roman games in the arena
For a long time it was believed that the Emperor Augustus bestowed the amphitheatre on the city but it is now agreed that its construction dates from the second half of the 1st century or the beginning of the 2nd, the same time as the Colosseum of Rome.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the arena was transformed into a fortress by the Visigoths. Many invasions ensued and threatened the security of the people of Nîmes who decided to take refuge in the amphitheatre, which was easy to defend. In the Middle Ages, the edifice became a veritable fortified village with wells, houses, two churches and even a castle, all of which existed up to the 18th century.
The place became insalubrious and in 1786, as part of a city rehabilitation project, the destruction of the houses and restoration of the amphitheatre was decreed.
The first phase of the works was interrupted during the revolutionary period to be resumed during the Second Empire.
In 1813, the Prefect of the Gard authorized the first bull races and the arena was soon able to return to its original function. The first Spanish running of the bulls took place in 1863.
The arena is open to the public and an audio-guided tour lets the visitor discover its architecture and history. A multimedia space is devoted to the gladiators and to bullfighting; enigma games are offered for children.
In late April, the Grands Jeux Romains present reenactments of ancient Roman games.
The arena is the setting for the Féria de Pentecôte, created in 1952 and based on the Spanish bullfighting festivals. A great popular event, it attracts more than a million people each year.
Les arènes de Nîmes - Boulevard des arènes - 30000 Nîmes