Architecture Around the World

Roman Architecture in Nimes, France

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Amphitheater

Amphitheater

Amphitheater

Amphitheater

Roman amphitheater in Nimes. Text

Roman amphitheater in Nimes

Roman amphitheater in Nimes

Roman amphitheater in Nimes

Fountain Gardens

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The Fountain Gardens at Nimes. Built by Romans to make holy water from a spring available year-round. Catch basins were created. Doric columns.

Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana

"Temple of Diana" at Nimes. Misnamed during excavations in the 16th century when a statue of Diana was found in the ruins. Really was a library. No restoration done.
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"Temple of Diana." Note the Roman arched ceiling does not fall even though suspended.

"Temple of Diana." Note dentils, triangular and rounded pediments.

Temple of Diana." Ceiling decoration.

Bridge

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Maison Carée

Maison Carée

Roman bridge at Nimes (restored in 18th century)

Temple at Nimes. Interior a "cella," a room without windows that contained a statue of the emperor whose head was changed with each new emperor.
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Temple at Nimes

Pont Du Gard Aqueduct

Pont Du Gard Aqueduct

Pont Du Gard Aqueduct

Pont Du Gard Aqueduct

Pont Du Gard Aqueduct
49 meters high (about 15 stories).

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Pont Du Gard Aqueduct. About 6 feet high and was covered for sanitary reasons.

Pont Du Gard Aqueduct . Protruding rocks used for scaffolding during repairs

Olive tree near the Pont Du Gard Aqueduct. Planted in 902 AD in Spain, but then replanted here.


Nimes

Created around a sacred spring in times immemorial, and situated at the crossroads of major routes, the "capital des Volques Arecomiques" rightly prides itself on an incomparable array of antique monuments which count amongst the most beautiful and best preserved of the Roman world.

Well before the conquest, Nimes was already a regional religious center due to the importance of the cult of Nemausos, the deity of the Spring of Fountain, a god at once local, who had given his name to the place, and then protected it.

The greatest period of construction at Nimes was under Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian and, to a lesser extent, at the end of the II century A.D. The Amphitheatre was probably built in the last ten years of the first century A.D.




Roman Amphitheater at Nimes

Built 1 AD. 23,000 capacity (the Coliseum in Rome held 80,000). Cushions used for seats. the Romans covered the arena with a canvas cover, the "velum." In a modern experiment, it took only five minutes to evacuate the entire amphitheater. All the arches are entrances and exits.

Used for gladiator combat, but no lions. There was assigned seating according to status (women and slaves at the top.)

"Arena" means "sand" which was needed to absorb the blood.


The arena is in excellent condition because, during the Middle Ages, the locals built houses in the arena. Restored in the 19th century. Today the arena is used for bullfights, especially at Pentecost, and opera, as well as auto shows and tennis matches.

The Amphitheatre at Nimes, known locally as the "Arenes," is one of the best preserved of the Roman world. In plan it is an ellipse measuring 133 by 101 metres. The outer wall has two rows of arches superimposed, with a main entrance surmounted by a triangular pediment which is decorated with the foreparts of bulls sculptured in stone. The spectator area, or "cavea," which surrounds the arena, is divided into 60 radiating segments which each correspond to two superimposed arches as seen from the outside. The 34 terraced rows, on which 24 000 spectators could sit, are divided into four "moeniana" separated by a circulation corridor and by a sort of parapet or "ibalteus." Each moenianum was reserved to a particular class of society and served by a vaulted ring-gallery and regular access points, or vomitories. The galleries themselves are linked by stairs. This circulation system was designed to avoid any risk of confusion or overcrowding during the movement in or out of the spectators. The arena floor, separated from the cavea by the "podium" wall, concealed two galleries in heavy masonry crossing each other at right angles, and which probably served as the "wings." They were once wrongly considered to be the conduits by which water was brought to was out the bloodied arena.

In reality, the Nimes Amphitheatre was probably used most often for gladiatorial combats. The low height of the podium would seem, in fact, not to have been high enough to allow the use of wild beasts.

In antiquity, an immense canvas cover, the "velum," protected the cavea from the extremes of blazing sunshine or bad weather. It was manipulated by cables and supported by wooden masts fixed into pierced consoles, of which a number still exist in the better preserved part of the upper level.

The Amphitheatre has little decoration, its architecture being sufficient in itself. The pilasters and engaged columns which give rhythm to the facade are of the Doric order.

The spectator flow-pattern was a major preoccupation in the architectural conception of Roman amphitheaters Vitruvius, a theoretician specializing in the structural principles of these buildings, defines thus the essential ground-rules: "It is necessary to spread out the numerous and spacious access ways, avoiding that those coming from above meet those coming from below; it should be possible to reach them from any seat, by direct link and without returning in such a way that when one leaves the performance people are not squeezed together, but that each one finds, no matter which seat he has occupied, a separate exit which presents no obstacles."

The plan of the Amphitheatre, inspired by these theories, is laid out in such a way that access to the terraces is quick and easy: by corridors and separate galleries for each moenianum, and by adapting stairs and exits to the needs of all.

Nimes is the French capital of bullfighting; the presence of the Arena has no doubt decided this, and the position of the town on the road to Spain having facilitated the appearance of the greatest Spanish toreros has conformed it as a place where bullfighting festivals are organized


"Temple of Diana"

The building called the "Temple of Diana" is, without doubt, the most mysterious Gallo-Roman monument in Nimes, for we still do not know what it was intended for. In any case, it seems probable that its construction, now put in the II century A.D., had a direct connection with the Fountain sanctuary.

Now badly deteriorated, this curious monument, (in the architecture of which some would see an oriental influence), had at the outset a large rectangular hall with two lateral corridors giving access to a second level. The central hall was richly decorated with columns and Corinthian pilasters, of which very little trace remains, and niches topped by alternate triangular and arched pediments. It was covered by a remarkable semicircular roof-vault "made up of a series of arches engaged one within the other and forming projections at regular intervals."

In 991 the "temple" became the Convent Church of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Savior In 1562 the nuns had to abandon their Convent which was pillaged by the Calvinists. The unfortunate building was finally ruined in 1577 by Catholics from Nimes to prevent it being used as a refuge by Protestant troops under the command of Marshal du Bellegarde. Finally the ruins were utilized as a source of stones in the XVII century for the construction of strongholds, and also in the XVIII century at the time of work on the Fountain Gardens.


Temple at Nimes - Maison Carrée

This is certainly one of the best preserved and most elegant of the temples which the Gallo-Roman civilization has bequeathed us. Constructed to give the effect of being enclosed by freestanding columns, in fact only ten are disengaged, the facade being composed of six of these. All the columns, both engaged and disengaged, are of the Corinthian Order.

The temple measures 26 meters long by 15 wide, reaching a maximum height of 17 meters at the apex of the tympanum. The orientation is North-South, the entrance being on the South side.

The Maison Carrée, (so-called since the XVI century), formed part of the monumental Forum complex of Nimes in antiquity. This sanctuary, dedicated to the grandsons of Augustus, Caius and Lucius Caesar -"princes of youth" - was inspired by the architecture of the Temple of Apollo in Rome. It was later itself to serve as model for the Church of La Madeleine in Paris, during the reign of Napoleon I. Its construction is definitely dated to the Augustan period; it has been possible to pinpoint the time to soon after the death of Lucius, son of Agrippa and Julia, in the year 2 or 3 A.D. It was originally surrounded by covered porticos and apparently faced the Curia, where the Nimes Senate held their meetings.


Pont Du Gard Aqueduct

Limestone aqueduct, between Uzes and Nimes (50 km), carried water over a 50 km length. Three levels of arches for stability. Effective for 600 years, then not maintained. The bridge did not suffer the fate of other Roman building -- rocks used for other building -- because the bridge was too all to be easily dismantled.

In the 18th century, the width of the lowest level of arches was more than doubled and used as a bridge.


The track of the Aqueduct is easily traced thanks to the remains still in place above ground, sometimes raised on arches and pillars, skirting hills, crossing valleys, going underground (60-66 meters), dug trough the rock, as if the canal enjoyed this long and capricious run. For such a long distance the gradient is only 17 meters, equal to an average of 34 cm./km., going from 67 to 7 cm according to the section.

In Gallo-Roman times Nimes was supplied by an immense aqueduct nearly 50 kilometers long, which collected the waters of springs at Eure and Airan, near Uzes, and delivered it to the castellum divisorium discovered in 1844.

This giant work was carried out both underground in pipes or tunnels as in the Sernhac hills, or on walls or high arches across the valleys as at Remoulins or Vers. The most remarkable parts of this grandiose construction were, without doubt, the triple-arched bridge at St. Maximin over the Bornegre stream and, above all, the mighty Pont du Gard crossing the River Gardon not far from Remoulins.

In the XVI century, a passageway was made for pedestrians above the lower row of arches by cutting into the pillars of the second tier. A road allowing the circulation of wheeled vehicles was established on the same level in 1743.

Given the basic utility of the work, there is every reason to suppose that its building followed closely on the foundation of the colony and cannot, in any case, be later than the 1st century A.D.

At one time the Pont du Gard was one of the obligatory points of call for the "Compagnons du Tour de France," or journeymen on their first tour of initiation after apprenticeship.

The Pont du Gard is 275 meters long at its highest level, and is 48.77 meters high. The first two levels comprise of superimposed and juxtaposed arches in the same architectural plan. The archways have not all the same width, those over the riverbed being larger to allow less resistance to the water. The pillars of the second row rest on those of the base, the additional weight giving to these carrying elements a better resistance to the sideways thrust of the arches. The third level represents a much less significant weight.

The building stone comes from a neighboring quarry in the Commune of Vers. It is cut in large blocks weighing up to six tons, put together without mortar and lifted into place using a winch worked by a large wheel or "squirrel cage" turned by men climbing the interior rungs. The pillars were built using a simple framework a row at a time, the arches being formed by the raising of successive pillars and the use of the same wooden forms which were slid along as necessary as the work advanced.

Above the keystones of the first level are four rows of blockwork, the second level has three, and the third level only one below the canal duct.

The canal itself was coated inside with a waterproof mortar, and this in turn by a flexible paste to complete the sealing. However all these precautions did not prevent the canal from becoming obstructed gradually by calcium deposits on the inside surfaces, to such an extent that by the end of its utilization, the flow had been reduced greatly as a result.

The aqueduct having become useless, it nevertheless remained standing. Far from the hands of needy men, succeeding generations did not help themselves to the stone. At the end of the XIII century, or during the XIV (a toll gate is mentioned about 1295 ?) a vast bite was taken out of each pillar to create a roadway at the second level, which weakened the aqueduct and put the entire structure in danger. In 1702, to rectify the error, the States of Languedoc undertook to reduce this risk by partly filling the pillars and extending the roadway out over the river. In 1743 this same Assembly, judging the work inadequate, completely filled the gaps and built a new road bridge next to the original structure, keyed to it, which duplicated its outlines. Under Napoleon III the Pont du Gard was completely restored.



Photos and their arrangement © 2001 Chuck LaChiusa
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