Suggestion of theme visits
There are a number of charming private mansions in the historical centre of the city. Explore the courtyards with their magnificent staircases. These prestigious residences indicate the social status of their owner. They reflect the art of living and of building in Nîmes from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. They show the changes in tastes and styles of architecture over the years.
(The number of visitors is limited to 30 per guide for these visits)
A guide-lecturer recounts the history of the textile industry that was closely linked with water, strongly present in Nîmes.
The guided visit starts with the spring in the Jardins de la Fontaine and then continues along the canal that runs from it. You then examine traces of the textile industry. From Square Antonin you follow the route of the Agau, a canal that crossed the city and was covered in the nineteenth century. The visit finishes in the Museum of Old Nîmes (Musée du vieux Nimes) where you will hear about the cloth made in Nîmes, the manufacture of denim jeans and the red of French military uniforms.
These were the first public gardens in France, with classical relics (the Temple of Diana and the Tour Magne), statues and elegant vases. They were laid out in the eighteenth century at the site of a sanctuary dedicated to the imperial cult. A walk through these gardens reveals the various landscaping influences: classic French formal, Italian and Romantic. (A guided visit to the Tour Magne is possible. A panoramic table at the top of the tower shows the city and the Roman monuments)
A literary visit of the town through the writings of famous travellers like Rousseau, Flaubert, Colette and Stendhal, local writers and poets like Jean Paulhan, Marc Bernard, Christian Liger, Alphonse Daudet and many others.
See the places and hear the stages in the history of Protestantism in Nîmes from its establishment in the sixteenth century to the period of the 'Desert' in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The 'grand temple'. This early eighteenth-century building was the Dominican convent church before being used by the Protestant church in 1792. The decoration of the facade was reworked in the nineteenth century.
The 'petit temple'. Completed in 1718, the church of the Ursuline convent was used by the Protestant church from 1795. The organ pipes are in a remarkable walnut housing dating from 1750.
The Oratory. This was rebuilt from 1870 to 1874 by Alphonse Granon, the City Architect, who used an original steel frame. It was inaugurated in 1876.
A marketplace, a square for pleasure or traffic, a forum … discover the history and the role of urban public squares through examples in Nîmes: Place d’Assas. Two monumental heads at each end of the square face each other. They represent Nemausa, the spring that was the origin of Nîmes, and the god Nemausus, the male force of the town.
Place du Marché. When you sit at a table on one of the café terraces of this square—near the crocodile or in the shade of a palm tree, you might think of Cleopatra…
Place du Chapitre. Right in the historic centre of Nîmes where buildings of different periods rub shoulders, the square is now centred on a monumental stepped fountain, a terrace planted with cypresses and a formal garden.
Place de l’Horloge. The clock tower, rebuilt in the eighteenth century, has given the time in the city centre for five hundred years.
Place aux Herbes. This has been the 'heart' of the city for centuries. Mullioned windows, arcades of shops and the cathedral, retouched a hundred times, bring to mind the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Today, with its café terraces and the fact that everybody has to go through it, it has succeeded in being both lively and peaceful.
Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. A garden of nearly one hectare right in the town. The Pradier Fountain, carved in white marble by James Pradier, Rome Prize, has been a feature of the centre of the Esplanade since 1845.
Square de la Couronne. It is said that the statue of Alphonse Daudet, who was from Nîmes, was inaugurated by his family three years after his death. It is said that Guillaume Apollinaire, madly in love with Lou, spent the ten most passionate days of his life here at the Hôtel du Midi. Today, several restaurants set out tables in this quiet square with a literary flavour.
Consecrated in 1096 by Pope Urban II, Notre-Dame-Saint-Castor Cathedral was seriously damaged during the wars of religion. In 1882 the diocesan architect Henri Revoil performed a full renovation of the inside of the building, much of which had been rebuilt in the 17th century. The upper frieze is considered as being a major piece of the Romanesque sculpture in the South of France.
The acanthus leaf and lion's head motifs on the pediment and the cornice were inspired by the Maison Carrée.
Stairs have pride of place in local architecture. Nîmes has very fine old examples showing the evolution from spiral stairs to hanging stairs.
The conservation area of Nîmes, created in 1985, is bounded by the four boulevards that enclose the historic centre. It covers 41 hectares and has a population of about 5000.
It features extremely high quality wrought-iron work:
balconies, railings and banisters …
Whether a single-leaf door for pedestrians or carriage gates, doors are the point of transition between outside and inside, between public space and private space. Frames and carved wood also make them decorative features. You will find them—often at the entries to private mansions—during walks in the conservation area.
See the fine facades and their windows during a stroll in the historic centre. They are decorative openings, light the rooms and provide a view. They let in air and are now adjusted to match energy-saving criteria. The evolution of shapes and decoration provides valuable clues for dating windows.
From the nettle tree at Carré d’Art to the palm tree in Place du Marché, typically Mediterranean species rub shoulders with rare trees in the streets and gardens of Nîmes. Whether they are individual specimens or planted in ordered rows, trees are a living match to stone architecture.
Water is a paradoxical natural element in Nîmes—rare at the surface but always present in people's minds. It is seen all over the city: the fountain in Place du Chapitre, in Place d’Assas, Place du Marché and Esplanade Charles de Gaulle…
Sculpted animals in stone or bronze are used as symbols or decoration on wrought iron work, on façades and in public squares. See examples on the facade of the Roman arena too!
Many statues of historical figures decorate the squares in the city. What roles did they play in the history of Nîmes?
Whether they are in French or Occitan, street names evoke the history and everyday life of the city. They sometimes change over the centuries and are a reminder of economic activities, historical figures or the characteristics of a place.
Numerous commemorative plaques on walls and monuments mention the men and women and events that have marked Nîmes since Roman times.
The covered market in Nîmes was redesigned by Jean-Michel Wilmotte in 1988 and is one of the finest in the region and people come for the pleasure of both the eye and the palate.
This air-conditioned covered market with 3500 sq-m floor area has wonderful atmosphere and the catching friendliness of about a hundred welcoming stallholders. A visit to the area around the market followed by the discovery and tasting of local produce and products such as brandade de morue, tapenade, petits pâtés nîmois, pélardons (small goat's milk cheeses), etc.
(maximum 30 persons per guide for this visit).
This is the oldest collective Protestant cemetery in France and is remarkable for both its landscaping and the architectural quality of the tombs.
Meeting at the main entry in Route d’Alès.
Created by the artist Martial Raysse, these two squares explore different symbolic worlds. Place d'Assas: the stone and bronze sculptures that give life and structure to the square refer to the origin of Nîmes – Nemausus and Nemausa, masculine and feminine, while esoteric signs/symbols are an invitation to a philosophical reading.
Commissioned by the city of Nîmes and made in collaboration with the Italian sculptor Vito Tongiani, the fountain in Place du Marché was carved in Carrara marble and plays on with the emblem of the city: a crocodile chained to a palm tree. Martial Raysse's bronze crocodile has broken the chain attaching it to the palm tree, the latter being symbolised by a truncated column.
Discover works by contemporary artists and architects.
Place d’Assas and the fountain in Place du Marché by Martial Raysse.
Carré d’Art: a contemporary temple designed by Lord Norman Foster and set to face the Roman temple.
In the courtyard of the Town Hall, Takis' Signal is a sculpture made in 1984
Place du Chapitre was redesigned by the French architects Dominique Pierre and Philippe Ghezzi.
The floor of the hall of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (Art School) was renovated by Bernard Pagès.
Starck designed his bus shelter in 1987. This is a piece of street furniture in dark marble, showing the crocodile and palm tree of the arms of Nîmes.
Jean-Michel Wilmotte: the well-known interior designer has used subtle touches to modernise the City Hall, the Musée des Beaux-arts and the covered market.
The AEF project has been completed in 2013 and the architect and town planner Alain Marguerit is aiming at enlarging the historic centre by creating an 8-hectare urban area encompassing the Roman arena, Esplanade Charles de Gaulle and the railway station, highlighting the 20th century 'forum'.
Nemausus: built in 1987, this is the work of Jean Nouvel who wished to redefine low-rent housing. The building was awarded '20th century heritage' status in 2008.
The Colisée (Coliseum): This set of offices, shops and apartments was designed by the Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. Built at the entry to the city in 1991, it is inspired by the Roman amphitheatre.
The Costières Stadium and Le Parnasse: in 1989, the architects Vittorio Gregotti and Marc Chausse chose to build a British type stadium for both football and rugby.
The Roman monuments have influenced all periods of architecture in Nîmes. Find these references in public and private buildings—they give the city its special character.
The town shrank in the 8th century to about a tenth of the size of Roman Nîmes. Increasing insecurity obliged the population to take refuge in the Roman amphitheatre and to turn it into a fortress in case of danger. The Roman ramparts served as a quarry where anybody could come for the stone he needed. Some districts, such as 'La Fontaine', were abandoned ….
Look for clues to Medieval Nîmes: a walled arcade in the Roman arena, the frieze on the cathedral, a mullioned or tracery window, the remains of Romanesque decoration, a sculpted head on a house, the Tour de l’Horloge and a few façades in the rabbit warren of the streets of old Nîmes.
Roman antiquity was both a model and a source of inspiration for the Renaissance.
Cloth and silk stocking were soon exported to Europe and the Spanish West Indies. Tow-thirds of the working population of Nîmes worked in the textile industry. The town became richer and changed.
This is when superb private mansions were built, demonstrating urban prestige and reflecting a certain art of living.
Look out for signs of this artistic, humanist period in the architecture of Nîmes.
This quarter named after a church that has now gone, is the site of numerous historical buildings: Augustus' gate, the barracks, St. Baudile's church, the former Les Dames de France store and the Grand Temple.
Buildings of different periods rub shoulders, ranging from the cathedral close near the bishopric to the square redesigned in 2007, forming an excellent witness of the history of the city. Place du Chapitre: right in the historic centre of Nîmes where buildings of different periods rub shoulders, the square is now centred on a monumental stepped fountain, a terrace planted with cypresses and a formal garden.
Large trees have been kept in the lower part of the paved square. Ground lighting gives the decor a special colour and people like dancing the tango on certain summer evenings. It was totally refurbished in 2007.
This district above Boulevard Gambetta has a rich history and a little-known heritage consisting of textile workers' houses and bourgeois residences.
Walk through this old district to Porte de France. Lycée Daudet, the former general hospital and the Chamber of Commerce—formerly a hospital—are a reminder of the history of hospitals in Nîmes.