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Monday, June 3: Day 42 – On the Old Roman Road

We did a day trip to Nimes (which is pronounced Neem). It is about a 20-minute train ride from Arles. Nimes is located on the old Via Domitia (Roman road) that linked Italy and Spain. We were excited to go to Nimes because a number of the major sites were built around Christ’s time.

When we left the train station, a small van was parked on the sidewalk just in front of us. As the driver pulled onto the road his left rear tire clipped one of the posts.

The tire exploded. People rushed out of the surrounding shops concerned about what the LOUD explosion meant. Here is the aftermath.

We plotted out six stops for the day. First, we visited the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world. Built around 95 AD the oval originally held 24,000 people. Different classes of people never mixed inside. Some names are still etched in seats where individual people sat. It has a common feature of amphitheatres called vomitoria. These are passages below or behind a tier of seats through which big crowds could exit rapidly at the end of a performance. In effect they were “vomited” out of the stadium.

Our amphitheatre tour offered a lot of information about gladiators who fought there. They were highly trained and had different types of equipment. Some had helmets, big or small shields, and various kinds of swords. I was amazed by the retiaruis gladiator who used a weighted net and trident (like a pitchfork) and very little armor. Here is a stock photo showing him on the right.

Most of the gladiators survived because in the Roman world if a gladiator was killed, the sponsor of the event had to compensate the gladiator owner.

Next we went to the Maison Carrée built in Nimes by Emperor Augustus between 2 and 5 AD. It is one of the best preserved temple façades to be found in the territory of the former Roman Empire.

The front has Corinthian columns and 15 steps. At the time it was very important to climb an uneven number of steps to enter a temple. As the left foot was a sign of bad luck, you had to place your right foot on both the first and last steps. While I’m generally not superstitious, I was careful with my steps. This building inspired the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

Next we stopped at the Castellum Aquae built in the middle of the first century AD.

It is the point of arrival of the aqueduct of Nimes. Only one other Castellum still exists – in Pompeii. Ten lead pipes radiated out from this circular basin to supply water to the various parts of the city. I guess the Flint, Michigan, water supply was modeled after this one.

Like many European cities Nimes used to have a wall around it. The ancient Augustan walls ran for more than 4 miles. Tour Magne standing at the highest point in Nimes is the only remnant of these walls other than a couple of gates. There is an internal stairway that allowed us to climb to the top.

In the 16th century this watchtower was severely damaged and almost destroyed because of a Nostradamus prophecy of gleaming metals that were interpreted to be here.

Adjacent to the Tour Magna the Jardins de la Fontaine are beautiful and symmetrical in pattern. There is a Temple of Diana there that was originally used as a library in the first century AD.

A few swans were swimming in the ponds. This one got upset when people approached too close.

Back in Arles in the evening we went to a wonderful restaurant called Les Filles de 16. A local guitar player played a few songs. Romantic.

On the way into the restaurant while walking between tables, I hit my head on one of the hanging lamps. The light bulb went out but came on occasionally as we ate. Because of this we made friends with a nice Dutch couple sitting next to us.

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