The Roman Days of Nîmes: journey to Roman Gaul

All roads lead to Nîmes, French Rome. With that phrase we were welcomed by one of the cities of France richer in Roman heritage: Nîmes, the old Nemausus. We do not know what the residents of Arles will think of “French Rome”, but there is no denying that in Nîmes one of the temples and one of the best preserved amphitheaters of ancient Rome are still standing. And, above all, that, once a year, during a weekend between the end of April and the beginning of May, that ancient heritage comes to life. Gladiatorial combats, legionary parades, Roman dances, banquets… A real trip to Gaul thanks to the Roman Days of Nîmes.

Jumping in front of the sand of Nîmes

If you’ve heard of Great Roman Games of Nîmes, it’s the same, it’s the old name of this annual event. If they don’t ring a bell either, read on. You will want to attend the next Roman Days of Nîmes. That’s what happened to us as soon as we found out about it and told you how it went.

Ave, Nemause, morituri te salutant!

The Roman Days of Nîmes (formerly Great Roman Games of Nîmes)

The Roman Days of Nîmes they are one of the largest historical reconstructions of antiquity in all of Europe. At the central event, the historical show in the arena of Nîmes which is repeated for three consecutive days, involving more than 500 recreationists from about thirty associations from all over France and Europe – my Italian compatriots cannot be missing, of course. A bit like in the Natali di Roma, the “birthday party” of the Italian capital.

Roman Days of Nîmes Poster
Poster of the Roman Days of Nîmes in the historic center of the city

And, also as in the Natali di Roma, each year there is a theme. In recent years they have been Cleopatra, the Celtic queen, Spartacus, the barbarian kings, Hadrian… We have attended the Roman Days of Nîmes of 2023, whose protagonist was Vercingetorix. And there they announced that in 2024 the theme will revolve around the barbarians.

It is a relatively new tradition, it started in 2010, but every year it attracts more lovers of the Roman world, history and, in general, the spectacle. In 2023 more than 100,000 visitors arrived, more than 32,000 only in the arena show.

Roman Days of Nîmes Arena Combat
Part of the show in the arena during the Roman Days of Nîmes

The idea is to remember the passage of Emperor Hadrian through Nîmes in the year 122. It was not so common for an emperor to visit a province and, when he did, he often took the opportunity to organize games and extol the past of his glorious predecessors. Almost two millennia later, Hadrian “returns” to Nîmes every year to preside over new games where he can relive some Roman feat.

Roman Days of Nîmes Legionary Sara
Sarah supporting the Romans

The historical spectacle in the arena of Nîmes

As we said, the central event of the Roman Days of Nîmes It’s him Great historical reenactment show that takes place in the amphitheater and that is repeated in the afternoons of the three central days of the party. We witness the reenactment of the Gallic Wars, with the campaigns that pitted the great Gallic leader Vercingetorix against the even greater Julius Caesar. A recreation in which half a thousand recreationists participated, including Gallic and barbarian warriors, Roman legionaries, gladiators, imperial court, senators, matrons, common people and slaves.

Roman Days of Nîmes Sand Fisheye Troops
More than 500 people in the recreation of the Roman Days of Nîmes in the sand

We already knew the result. No, it wasn’t going to end well for Vercingetorix, even though his name in Celtic meant “supreme king of warriors.” But, you know, what matters is the path, rather than the destination. A path of a couple dand hours of historical reenactment that flew by between gladiatorial duels, archer attacks, turtle-forming defenses of Roman legionaries and shouts from the audience. It must be said that everyone went with the Gauls except us… it was fun to be in the “enemy background”!

Roman Days of Nîmes Arena Roman Troops
Roman troops parading in the arena

If you don’t know French, you miss a bit of the history, but the show is very visual, so you also enjoy a lot without understanding all the details. And be sure to stay around the arena after the show and go before, to see the reenactors up close.

Roman Days of Nîmes Reenactors
Reenactors before the show at the door of the arena of Nîmes

The only thing we did not see necessary was the participation of two birds of prey. Although it is a historical reenactment, it could work perfectly without them and raptors are wild animals that, as such, have many problems adapting to life in captivity, as you can read. here. About the horses, then, we imagine that they will be well cared for and it would be more complicated to explain part of the battles without them. This is something that affects all historical reenactments, not this one in particular, but we didn’t want to stop mentioning it.

Roman Days of Nîmes Arena Vercingetorix
Vercingetorix haranguing the masses

The rest of the events of the program

Beyond the historical spectacle in the arena, during the Roman Days of Nîmes There are many more events taking place throughout the old town. Some of them are:

  • the Grand parade and evening ceremony, with the 500 recreationists parading by torchlight from the arena of Nîmes to the Maison Carrée, on Saturday night – this, unfortunately, we missed, because we arrived on Sunday;
  • the parades of groups of recreationists through the streets of the historic center of Nîmes throughout the weekend;
  • the Gladiatorial combat demonstrations and ancient dance in Gabriel Péri Square;
  • the Gallo-Roman village on the Charles de Gaulle Esplanade with its flea market and craft workshops.
Roman Days of Nîmes Street Gladiators
Gladiatorial fights in the street

There are also theatrical night visits to the arena -only in French, of course-, Roman banquets, open-air theater shows, workshops and activities for children … if there was even a flashmob! You can see the full program of 2023 in the web from the town hall of Nîmes to give you an idea.

Practical information for the Roman Days of Nîmes

We have tried to gather all the practical information so that you can get the best out of your trip.

Dates

The conferences, before Great Roman Games of Nîmes, are held during a Weekend in late April or early May. It’s a weekend, but there’s also some activity before and after. In 2023 it was 5 days: from May 4 to 8.

Roman Days of Nîmes Arena Gladiator Combat
Gladiators fighting in the arena

Prices

The tickets to the historical show at the Nîmes arena They cost from €15 to €64 depending on location. The other paid activities are the dramatized visits to the arena, of course the banquets and the entrance to the fort of the legionaries, near the Jardins de la Fontaine. In the legionary fort there are demonstrations of Roman combat tactics, chainmail workshops, sculpture, music, writing, architecture, Roman religion, etc. In the web of the arena of Nîmes you have the prices.

Roman Days of Nîmes Fort Legionaries
Fort of the Legionaries

The rest of the activities are free.

How to get there

The International airports closest to Nîmes are that of Montpellier and that of Marseille. The latter has many more connections with Spain: there are direct flights to many cities including Madrid – with Iberia and Ryanair – and Barcelona – with Vueling and Iberia. Both from Marseille and from Montpellier you can getting to Nîmes by train.

Where to park

In our case, we flew to Marseille and there we rented a car, because we also traveled around Nîmes and the Camargue. If you only visit the city, we recommend the train. If you arrive by car, the problem is where to park in the historic centre of Nîmes during the holidays.

Roman Days of Nîmes Roman Market
Roman market in the square above the Indigo Nîmes Arènes car park

There are three possibilities.

  • Park at the Parking Indigo Nîmes Arènes, the closest, but you will have to do it well before the show, because it gets full. It is free up to 30 minutes, the hour costs € 2.20, 3 hours are € 6.90 and the day costs € 21.50. You can see the updated prices in their web.
  • Park in the streets of the center, if you can find a place – which is very complicated. Throughout the historic center parking is paid – except at night, on Sundays and holidays – and you can pay at parking meters or with the PayByPhone app. In the center 4 hours are 6 € and 7 hours and a half 12 €. A whole day is more expensive than in the parking lot. You have the updated data in this web.
  • Get away from the historic centre and look for the free parking areas on the street or park in the free car parks Parking Relais A54 or Parking Relais Costières Parnasse and, from there, take the Trambus, line T1, to Arènes station.
Roman Days of Nîmes Arena Camp
The Roman camp inside the arena

Where to sleep near the sand of Nîmes

We slept in the Square Hôtel de Nîmes And we couldn’t be happier. It is next to the Parking Indigo Nîmes Arènes, where the Roman market is, and less than five minutes walk from the sand. Best position impossible to enjoy the Roman Days of Nîmes. It is a three star hotel with great value for money, even during the holidays. The room is comfortable – although we grilled a bit with the duvet in May – and the breakfast quite varied. You can See prices and book Or, if you are not convinced, look for others hotels in Nîmes.

Sleep in Nimes Square Hotel Room
Our room at the Square Hôtel de Nîmes

Where to eat

Finding restaurants open and with room during the Roman Days of Nîmes is not so simple. We had dinner one day at the restaurant Avant Garde, a good Mediterranean cuisine restaurant with menus that are well priced even in the evening. We are also looking for a place to try more typical Nîmes food, such as cod brandade –Brandade de Morue– and the Gardianne de toro – with Camargue bull meat marinated in wine – and they recommended the restaurant Nicolas, but it was closed every day we tried to go. We recommend you search in advance and book. We tried the cod brandade in the surroundings of Nîmes and it is finger-licking.

For a snack, you can try the petit pâté nîmois –mass stuffed with meat– or Fougasse aux grattons –with pieces of bacon or duck–. The latter we ate in the Boulangerie Pâtisserie Traiteur Bouzanquet And it was very rich.

What to bring

In Roman times the sand of Nîmes was covered with awnings… But not today. We recommend, if it is sunny, to wear a cap or hat, a handkerchief to cover yourself and put sunscreen. Even an umbrella can be a good idea as an umbrella.

Roman Days of Nîmes Arena Legionaries Turtle
Turtle formation of the Roman legionaries

We think that’s it. You can now go and enjoy the great show of the Roman Days of Nîmes.

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Artículo publicado en saltaconmigo.com