One of the biggest towns in the department with its surface area and population, Saint-Gilles is a true city where people live and move about, with shops and business and a marina on its canal.
Already occupied in the age of the Romans, the hermit Gilles founded a Benedictine monastery here in the 7th century. In the 9th century, the miracles performed by Saint Gilles made the city an important pilgrimage site on the Saint James Way. But the town's history was tumultuous, inflicting on it the Albigensian crusade and the ravages of the wars of religion and the French Revolution.
Today, visitors flock here again for the town's impressive heritage of which the abbey church is incontestably the most interesting sight.
A masterpiece of Romanesque art, the 12th century Upper Church with its façade and three monumental doors is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The vast and beautiful lower church or crypt dates from the 11th century and holds the tomb of Saint Gilles.
In the old choir, outside the present-day church, you will find an altar table and a remarkable spiral stairway with a ring-shaped vault.
Also to visit:
the former monks' cellar and vestiges of the cloisters
the Protestant church, late 19th century, in gothic revival style.
the Maison Romane, 12th century, which houses a museum
In the area around Saint-Gilles:
The Château d’Espeyran, 5 km away, on a 13-hectare site in the Camargue. Once the abbots' summer residence, the château was turned into a stately manor in the 19th century. Today, it houses period furnishings, several antique horse-drawn carriages and a microfilm and digital image conservation centre.
With some twenty vineyards and a wine cooperative, Saint Gilles is also a producer of AOC Costière-de-Nîmes wines. These wines were highly favoured by the popes, rivalling those from Beaune.