Image by Bertl123 Getty Images
Nîmes’ twin-tiered amphitheatre is the best preserved in France. Built around 100 BC, the arena once seated 24,000 spectators and staged gladiatorial contests and public executions; it's still an impressive venue for gigs and events. An audio guide provides context as you explore the arena, seating areas, stairwells and corridors (known to Romans as vomitoria), and afterwards you can view replicas of gladiatorial armour and original bullfighters’ costumes in the museum.
At 133m long, 101m wide and 21m high, with an oval arena encircled by two tiers of arches and columns, the amphitheatre is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of Roman architects. Despite being adapted, plundered for stone and generally abused over many centuries, the structure of the amphitheatre is still largely intact, and it’s not hard to imagine what the atmosphere must have been like when it was filled to capacity.
The seating is divided into four tiers and 34 rows; the posher you were, the closer you sat to the centre. The amphitheatre’s oval design meant everyone had an unrestricted view. A system of trapdoors and hoist-lifts beneath the arena enabled animals and combatants to be put into position during the show. Originally, the amphitheatre would have had a canopy that protected spectators from the weather.