Les Arènes

sights / Historic

Lonely Planet review

Nîmes' twin-tiered amphitheatre is one of southwest France's most impressive Roman structures. Built around 100AD, the amphitheatre would have held around 24,000 spectators across four seating tiers; the posher you were, the closer you would have sat to the centre. The arena would have staged gladiatorial contests and public executions, and it's still regularly used for public events – mostly of a less gory nature than in Roman times, although bullfights remain a regular fixture on the calendar.

Inside, the amphitheatre is remarkably well preserved, especially considering its somewhat chequered history of being adapted, modified, plundered for stone and generally abused (the arena even contained a miniature town-within-a-town during the Middle Ages). The seating tiers, interior halls and staircases are still in situ, and there's a small museum which contains replicas of gladitorial armour. An informative audioguide detailing the building's history is included in the admission price.

A major project is currently underway to clean limescale, lichen and pollution stains from the exterior, and to address some troubling cracks that have appeared in recent years, so there may well be some scaffolding when you visit.