June 26, 2008

Provencal 3 - Nimes and Orange

We came to Nimes to visit the best preserved Roman amplitheatre in the world but discovered this one was hosting a bullfight that day and the festivities had taken over the entire town.

From marching bands winding their way through narrow cobblestoned streets; to tents selling anything related to the bull; to food stands (paella, of course); to beautifully embroidered matador jackets and paraphernalia - the town was a wonder to wander through - until the bullfight started and then the streets were empty!

We did get to visit the Maison Carrèe in relative quiet though - this neat, jewel-like temple is nothing like its name, Square House, being in fact long and rectangular. Built in 5AD it is possibly dedicated to the Gods Jupiter, Juno, or Minerva. It survived the centuries as a meeting hall, a private residence, a stable, a church and, after the Revolution an archive.

On the way to Orange, we made a point to take in the masterpiece of engineering - the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, built about 8 BC at 160 ft high, it carried water over 30 miles into the city of Arles.

Then into Orange and one of the best preserved Theatre Antique left standing. The Roman Theater of Orange is extraordinary in that it has retained its magnificent stage wall - surprisingly well preserved and unique in the Western world. Because of the wall it still has wonderful acoustics; this theatre can hold 10,000 spectators and has concerts within its walls to this day.

All of the preceding places are, of course, UNESCO world heritage sites.

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