Monday, August 19, 2013

Excursion à Nîmes et au Pont du Gard

Lundi, 19 août.

Phew, what a day! Today has been my first full day in Montpellier ... and I am pooped! But more about that later. First, I have much more exciting stories all about our first excursions to the historic city of Nîmes and the famous Roman aqueduct, le Pont du Gard.

The city of Nîmes is about an hour's drive -- or, in our case, bus ride -- away from Montpellier. We were met in the city by our tour guides, Christophe and Michel. (I genuinely have no idea who Christophe and Michel are or what makes them qualified to give tours of historic sites of the Sud de France, but as it turns out, they were great!) Our first stop was the famous Arenes de Nîmes.

The amphitheatre at Nimes was just as impressive as I had remembered it. We were running late, so we didn't have a ton of time to explore ... plus, it was crazy hot, so walking in and around the sunny arena wasn't exactly on the top of my to-do list. We did, however, get to learn a lot about the history of the Arenes and take photos from the very tippy-top!

There were great posters inside the interior of the arena with information about each type of gladiator who used to fight in the arena. Because Nîmes is such a popular tourist destination, the posters were in French and English. It was fun to read the bilingual translations of some of the original Latin words!

Read closely to learn more about the World of Gladiators!
Fun fact: during the Middle Ages, when Nîmes was inhabited by Visigoths, the entire city population moved inside the colosseum for protection. There were over 800 homes and a church in the middle! Now, the arena is used for all sorts of things -- concerts, festivals, and bull fights. Naturally, we had to take a photo with the matador statue that stands in front of the arena.

After exploring the arena, we made our way through historic Nîmes to another famous Roman site: la Maison Carrée. Like the amphitheatre, I had pretty good memories of the site and was really excited to see it again! I had completely forgotten just how funny its location is ... it's located in the center of town and practically dwarfed by the modern buildings that surround it.

Fun fact: the rectangular structure received its seemingly-unfitting name (carrée means "square" in French) because in ancient Rome, anything with four 90-degree angles was considered a square! Want to learn more about Nîmes and its ancient Roman roots? You can check out the official "Culture Spaces" website here. There's a great photo gallery as well as some information about the history of the Amphitheatre, Maison Carrée, and the Tour Magne (the city's third Roman site).

We explored the exterior of the monument before taking advantage of the air-conditioning and clean toilets available at its neighbor, the Carré d'Art, whose unique architecture provides a really cool modern contrast to the ancient Roman structure right next to it. Then it was time for lunch, which we bought at a cafe and took with us to eat in the Jardin de la Fontaine. And by eat, I mean that Molly and I scarfed down the sandwich we shared and ran to explore the statues and garden. (When in Nîmes, right?)

A fontaine, but NOT the titular fontaine!


After lunch, we were picked up by the bus. I'm not quite sure what happened after that, because I was O-U-T. I tried to stay awake to look out the window as we drove through the gorgeous paysage, but between the yummy sandwich, the hot Nîmes sun, and the lingering jetlag, I didn't stand a chance. I woke up as we approached Pont du Gard.

We were given a brief history lesson while still on the bus -- that way, we didn't have to stand around listening in the sun and could go straight to exploring upon arrival! I learned that although most of the rest of the 50-km aqueduct was destroyed long ago, the Pont du Gard remained because of its value as a bridge; it was later recognized as a tourist site in the 18th century. (For some perspective ... the Pont du Gard was considered "history" before American history even began!)

The Pont du Gard is just ... wow. Massive. Beautiful. Ancient. I can't think of enough adjectives! It would be impressive if it were built last year, but the fact that it's as old as Christianity itself makes it all the more incredible. I remember seeing it was I was little (and probably had a better view then, as I'm sure it wasn't ten billion degrees and packed with tourists at the time), but I was completely blown away again.

Naturally, I made sure to take photos of the site from every possible angle!

We were given almost an hour to explore and swim, and after a day of walking around in the hot sun, it was almost unanimously decided that swimming was the way to go! There were absolutely hundreds of people there -- touring, bathing, tanning, and even kayaking.

We were all pretty quickly drawn to a giant rock near the base of the bridge. It's been worn smooth by constant climbing and apparently it is THE spot from which to jump into the Gard River! We watched several dozen people -- including tourists, French kids, and other students from our group -- successfully make the drop before agreeing to attempt it ourselves. At about twenty feet from the water, it's a pretty long fall -- taller than any diving board I've ever jumped off! I was literally shaking before I finally mustered the courage to jump, but I am so glad I did. It was definitely something I would have regretted not doing!

But lest you think I'm being too crazy over here in la France, let me go ahead and promise you that I'm just as boring, safe, and cheap as ever! (The last being the reason why I'm eating yogurt for a third straight dinner...)


  1. So much fun to read and read again! I just love you so much for going to the trouble to do this blog. It is wonderful!


  2. That is a big rock! You surely were brave and I am glad you were cautious too to stay safe but you are never ever boring. : )