The Land of Ancient History
08.02.2011 - 10.02.2011 53 °F
Bon Jour from the South of France,
We grabbed a cab in Barcelona and took a trip to the airport to pickup the rental car. We had a very interesting driver who was a part time tour guide of the Barcelona area. In the back of the cab he has a wire wound binder he had made with glossy pictures and descriptions of the area. We wished we had called him for a personal tour of the area before we were on our way out of town but if you want his contact info we have is somewhere (aka Susan has it). We rented the car got the GPS fired up and headed North toward the South coast of France. Our first stop was to be Nimes as we were going to use it as a base to visit Nimes, Pond du Gard, Arles and Avignon. This area is the land of castles as there are so many of them still standing they have road signs on the highway to tell you where to exit to visit them. We must have seen 20 such road signs between Barcelona and Nimes. Overall we were very impressed with the area and all of the historical events and structures that we found there. There really isn’t anyway the few pictures I am posting here can do justice to all four areas covered in this blog entry but since I am driving I can’t make use of my travel time on the train to get caught up on the blog and I’m falling way behind…sorry!
Let’s get to the pictures!
Here is a picture of our road map taken by the navigator. I think being the navigator is a lot like doing a job your boss thinks is easy. If you do it well and you get where you were going it was obviously expected and if not people (the driver) wonder how you could screw that up .
Here is a picture of one of the many road signs indicating there was a castle ahead.
The first thing to understand is that Nimes is VERY old! There is evidence of man’s existence here from 4000 B.C. It was a very important town to the Romans on the road from Italy to Spain and Roman legions who served Julius Cesar in the Nile campaigns were given plots of land here to farm after serving Rome. Much later in the 17th and 18th centuries Nimes became a wealthy town due to textiles and the fabric most all of us wear daily got its name right here. The term Denim came from the term De Nimes meaning “from Nimes”. It is also the home to the best preserved Roman arena where gladiators fought and Christians were fed to lions for entertainment. The arena is one of three remaining ruins dating before Christ.
The next five pictures are of the arena in Nimes. It was built about 1 B.C. Yes! It is now well over 2000 years old. It is in much better shape than the coliseum in Rome. The audio guide for the self guided tour is very well done and I was somber just thinking about how many lives had been lost here. We learned that many of the movies we have seen about gladiators and the arena are grossly inaccurate. For example, the games were typically hosted and paid for by the towns leader out of his own pocket. He was the one who decided if a gladiator was to be put to death or not when he dropped to his knees in surrender. His indication was not a thumbs up or down as we have seen but rather a flat hand with either the thumb extended indicating death or the thumb tucked into his palm indicating to put the sword back in its sheath. I was also interested to learn that should he choose to put a gladiator to death, he owed money to the gladiator’s school to compensate them for their cost in training him. More than 90% of those gladiators asking for mercy were granted it. In recent times the arena was still being used for bull fights. Nowadays instead of killing the bull they tie a ribbon between its horns and the Matadors try to grab it without getting gored.
Le Maison Carree was built by the Romans between 2 to 4 B.C. and was inspired by the Mars Ultor temple in Rome. It was used as a gathering place for ceremonies…outside that is as only the priests were allowed inside.
This was one of the main entrances to the city when it was surrounded with a continuous wall. The two larger arches in the center were for chariots and wagons while the two smaller ones were for people on foot.
Just about every town in this area has a carrousel and they are very popular among the children. This was a picture I took of the one in Nimes just after night fall.
Pont du Gard
Is the best preserved Roman aqueduct bridges in the world. It was built in the first century A.D. to bring water to Nimes across the river Gard. It was part of a 31 mile aqueduct system that would deliver more than 44 million gallons of water to the city each day for everything from baths to fountains. The second picture is of Susan and I standing in front of the bridge and the last picture shows Roman carvings of the number 17 and a good luck symbol.
We did not spend a great deal of time in Arles since it is best known for its Roman arena which was built after the Romans captured the city in 123 B.C. but it is not nearly as well preserved as the one we had previously visited in Nimes. Susan had visited here on a previous trip and wanted to find some the old places she had been. We did have a great lunch there at a small restaurant just off the square called Le 16. Here are some pictures taken around town.
Next we visited Avignon which is also as you may image is also a very old town and is located on the banks of the bank of the famous Rhone River. One of the more interesting historical facts of the city is that from 1309 when pope Clement V chose Avignon as his home the papacy was relocated from Rome to Avignon and it remained the center of Catholicism for the next 68 years and 7 popes. During these years they built a large papal palace as all church business and finance was conducted here. The next 8 photos were taken during our tour of the palace.
This is a picture of the Pont Saint-Benezet which was built in Avignon to cross the Rhone River between 1171 and 1185. You can see that it no longer spans the entire river as a large portion on the left bank has deteriorated. The bridge had its own Chapel of St. Nicholas which was the patron saint to the Rhone boatmen.
I hope these very few pictures give you some idea of the wonder and long history of this area. It was truly amazing to see such well preserved ancient ruins and get a feeling of life in those times.
Next we travel further East along the French Mediterranean coast line to visit the towns of Marseilles, St. Tropez, Bandol and Villefranche sur-Mer ….Assuming our navigator does what’s expected .
Until next time….Au Revoir