NÎMES

Nîmes, unlike its contemporary and neighbour Arles, has contrived to
flourish even in a prosaic and commercial age. Its industries, light and
refined in character, the weaving of silk and the pressing of the
grapes, are not too violently opposed to its ancient traditions of
beauty and luxurious living. Like Arles, it has an early origin, but of
a religious rather than a mundane order. The Celtic inhabitants of Gaul
fixed upon the site, and gave it a name which in the language of its
founders signifies a spring. The Romans early in the first century
appreciated and coveted the spot, which was soon occupied and named
Nemausus. The mysterious spring that wells up at the foot of the little
mountain Cavalier, sacred to the ancient Celts, assumed great importance
in the estimation of the newcomers. Its fame spread far and wide, and
much of the wealth and ingenuity of Rome was spent in building and
beautifying the city that rapidly grew up from the ruins of the Celtic
town which nestled round the spot where the “God of the fountain”
resided and was worshipped.

[Illustration: STREET IN NIMES]

The Celtic tribes, who were dispossessed or conquered by the invading
Romans, were far from being untutored savages. They knew and bartered
with the Greek colonists at Arles and Marseilles, and Celtic coins and
bronzes discovered in the neighbourhood of Nîmes give abundant evidence
of strong Hellenic influences.

The wondrous spring which gave rise to the ancient city still gushes out
in an inexhaustible volume of water, which finds its outlet through
canals into the Vistre. The Baths, built by Agrippa in the first century
at the foot of the hill, were supplied by the sacred well, and their

[Illustration: ROASTING COFFEE. NIMES.]

extent and elegance show how important and wealthy the colony had
become. Stone terraces, courts, and promenades, ornamented with urns and
statues, are now built upon the site, and the water of the spring is
allowed to overflow into the apartments and chambers of the ancient
Baths. The gardens are very beautiful, the brilliant white of the stone
balustrade, terraces, and steps, contrasting with and adding to the
beauty of the thickly wooded hill that rises at the back. After the
gardens at Arles, and even Avignon, this garden of the Fountain seems
fresh and joyous; there is an air of perpetual youth about it which the
genii of the spring seem unwilling to abandon.

The statues that adorned the place in the Roman days have vanished;
here, as elsewhere, the collector and vandal have had their way with the
smaller objects of art, but the place is not dead nor deserted.
Succeeding ages so felt the beauty of the spot that they have adorned it
with the best works they could produce.

The habit the ancients had of throwing small coins into these waters to
propitiate the gods and goddesses to whom the spot was sacred, accounts
for the almost inexhaustible supply of coins that have been and still
are discovered in the “Spring.” Thousands of these have found their way
into museums and private collections, and amongst them the curious “pied
du sanglier,” a coin which has puzzled many numismatists.

The coin, or medal, has one of its edges extended or drawn out into a
shape resembling the leg of a boar. The obverse of these coins has the
heads of Augustus and Agrippa embossed upon it, with the letters IMP …
P.P … DIVIF …, and on the reverse is a crocodile chained to a
palm-tree, with the letters COL. to the left and NEM. to the right,
separated by the palm-tree. It is thought that the boar’s leg and foot
on these coins, or medals, may be some special compliment to the Gauls,
to whom the boar was sacred. The inscription on the coin is common
enough, and the heads of Augustus and Agrippa are of course meant for
the heads of Octavius Augustus, the grand-nephew of Julius Cæsar,
Emperor in 27 B.C., and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the great general who
was the life-long friend and son-in-law of Augustus.

[Illustration: The Pied de Sanglier]

He was a great benefactor to Nîmes, and built the gigantic Pont du Gard
which brought the water into the town, the spring of Nemausus being too
sacred to use for drinking and domestic purposes. It is in compliment to
Agrippa that the crocodile tied to the palm-tree is stamped on the
reverse of these coins, symbolic of the subjugation of the Egyptian
power when Antony was defeated at Actium. This device of the palm-tree
and crocodile has been adopted as the arms of the town. Agrippa was a
warrior and organiser of the first order, and the honours that his
friend the Emperor showered upon him were no more than he deserved, for
Rome owes to him its Pantheon, and Nîmes its Pont du Gard.

The brilliance of Nîmes at the beginning of the Christian era was
unrivalled in the whole of Gaul. During this epoch, buildings of the
most splendid character sprang up on all sides, until, in the time of
Antoninus Pius (whose father was a Roman Consul in Nemausus), the great
Arena was erected.

The Maison Carrée, which has for centuries excited the admiration of the
civilised world, is the finest classic temple extant. Built during the
first years of the Christian era, it was dedicated to the two sons of
Agrippa, Caius and Lucius, who were adopted by their grandfather, the
Emperor Augustus, at their father’s death. The youths both died young,
and without accomplishing anything worthy of record, but as long as the
Maison Carrée stands their names will go down to posterity.

[Illustration: The Maison Carree Nimes]

The small temple has been portrayed on canvas and paper thousands of
times; familiarity with its graceful form can never exhaust its charms;
measurements and analysis do not assist in making its beauty more
apparent. Kings and Emperors have coveted it, and the miracle is that it
has escaped destruction or removal. Napoleon was contemplating this
latter when more pressing affairs demanded his attention, and Louis
XIV., at the suggestion of the architect Colbert, would have transported
it to Versailles, but the task was found to be impossible. Each
succeeding age endeavours to pay its tribute to this flower of
Greco-Roman art, but none has ever succeeded in describing the
indescribable. Arthur Young, who visited Nîmes in the course of his
travels through France during the Revolution, says:

“I visited the Maison Carrée yesterday evening, this morning, and three
times during the course of the day. It is without comparison the most
trifling, the most agreeable building I have ever seen. Without having
an imposing grandeur, or displaying any extraordinary magnificence that
might create surprise, it rivets the attention. In its proportions there
is a magic harmony that charms the eye. It would be impossible to single
out any special part for excellence of beauty, for it is altogether
perfect in symmetry and grace.”

The temple stands in a square which was the Forum in Roman days; the
remains of the foundations indicate the position which the contemporary
buildings occupied. To-day the square is surrounded with modern
buildings, but sufficient space is left between them and the temple to
permit of its being viewed from all sides.

The modern theatre that stands on the left is classic in style, with
Ionic pillars supporting the entablatures of its porch, but a glance at
it is sufficient to demonstrate to what depths a modern imitation of a
classic style can sink.

The temple, although in good preservation, has in its time seen many
vicissitudes. Towards the end of the

[Illustration: A SHOEBLACK AT NIMES]

Middle Ages it was installed as a town hall or council house, and its
interior fitted to accommodate its new occupiers; but evidently it was
not quite suitable, for, in the sixteenth century, the town authorities
parted with it to a private person, in exchange for a piece of land upon
which they could erect a building more adapted to their requirements.
The new proprietor had little respect for the beauty of the ancient
temple, and had no compunction in altering it to suit his prosaic needs.
It was about this period that the Duchess d’Uzès tried to purchase the
building to serve her and her descendants as a place of sepulture. This
attempt to turn it into a family vault, however, failed; but the noble
lord was more successful who managed to purchase and convert the temple
into a stable, although this vandalism was loudly protested against by
the learned and artistic inhabitants of the city. It changed hands again
and passed into possession of the Augustine friars, who transformed it
into a church or chapel, their occupation being conditional on their
offering up on fête day masses and prayers for their King and Country.
After the Revolution, the Government of the restoration stepped in and
rescued beauty’s temple from further humiliations and abuse, and now a
collection of the rare and precious relics of the most classic town in
France is housed in its choicest building.

The other famous relic of Nemausus, the Arena, has been mentioned
previously in connection with that of Arles. It is in much better
preservation than the latter and more imposing, as it stands where an
uninterrupted view of its vast proportions can be obtained. Smaller in
actual measurement than the arena at Arles, it impresses one as being
much larger. It has had a similar history, however, for in the fifth
century the Visigoths who possessed the town turned it into a fortress,
and the Saracens, who A.D. 719 had made themselves masters of Septimania
or Languedoc, used it as a stronghold until they were driven out by the
powerful Charles Martel.

[Illustration: THE ARENA NIMES]

Later in its history the Arena was occupied by over two thousand
Nimansians, who built within the great ellipse a town of narrow streets
and houses, the endless galleries and arcades offering a series of
almost ready-made dwellings. They had a church too, the remains of which
are being carefully preserved. The exterior of this Arena is pure
Roman, as befits a building built for the Roman national sport. The two
arcades of bold, deep-sunk arches are gloomily mysterious even when the
brilliant sunlight illumines all around. At night the gloom and mystery
increases, and the footfall of the solitary passer-by awakens echoes
through the endless vaults that seem to reach into the beginning and end
of time. And yet when the moon creeps up and throws her pale rays over
the giant seats that rise in circles like the rings on a disturbed pool,
the Arena has a beauty all its own–unpaintable, unspeakable.

The gladiatorial fights would seem to have been the most prevalent kind
of sport that was witnessed in the Arena, for it has been suggested over
and over again that the low wall of the podium would render fights
between wild or ferocious animals unsafe to the most important of the
spectators. On one of the stones in the podium there is, amongst others,
one inscription which has an interest in showing that the important
guilds of Nîmes had places perpetually reserved for them in the
distinguished foremost position of the podium. This inscription reads N.
RHOD. ET. ARAR, XL. DDN. which has been deciphered “Nautæ of the Rhone
and of the Saone, 40 places by decree of the Decuriones of Nemausus.”
The watermen were evidently a guild of considerable social importance to
have such honourable positions assigned to them, unless they were a
similar body to the guilds of our own capital, whose names have little
connection with the occupations of their members.

[Illustration: The VENUS of NIMES.]

The general arrangements of the Arena are similar to those at Arles, but
the whole building is in a much better state of preservation. During the
last few years bullfighting, both in the Portuguese and Spanish
fashions, has taken place regularly in the Arena. In fact, even in the
smaller villages or towns of Provence, the sport is so very popular
that temporary makeshift buildings are often erected, but at Nîmes and
Arles the splendid arenas enable the displays to be witnessed by more
than the present populations of these towns. No use is, however, made of
the great stone corbels that project in two rows round the top of the
exterior walls, and which in Roman times supported great poles from
which enormous sheets of sailcloth were stretched to protect the
spectators from the burning sun.

The gladiators were a large fraternity at Nîmes, and many of the
inscriptions preserved in the Musée Lapidaire refer directly or
indirectly to them. The skill of the different classes of fighters is
recorded along with their domestic virtues–testimony which adds pathos
to their tragic fate. Many of them were good fathers and faithful
husbands, who left anxious hearts behind them when they entered the
arena, and aching voids when they returned no more. The Roman courage of
the professional gladiators was not less terrible than the Roman cruelty
of their employers, and loving hearts were lacerated every time a human
body was butchered to make a Roman holiday.

In the same little museum at Nîmes where these

[Illustration: THE RUINED TEMPLE

OF DIANA. NIMES.]

inscriptions now repose there are many fragments of the most exquisite
carvings, enriched mouldings, and delicate capitals, all of them
speaking eloquently of vanished buildings that adorned the ancient
Nemausus.

Of the two other monuments of the ancient city, mere wrecks of their
former selves, which have claimed the attention of architects, artists,
and archæologists, one, the Temple of Diana, stands in the beautiful
garden of the fountain on the site of a much older temple dedicated to
the nymphs of the waters by the earliest Roman colonists, probably by
Augustus himself. The ruined temple standing to-day was very likely
erected about two centuries later, and the object of its presence on the
spot has caused, as is usual with these early buildings, considerable
difference of opinion; but it undoubtedly had something to do with the
cult of the goddess of the fountain, notwithstanding the presence in it
of niches reserved for the statues of other divinities.

It is a solid structure containing a large hall with a barrel-vaulted
roof in a bad state of repair. The worship of the goddess died out in
the fourth century, and the deserted buildings falling, in the dark
ages, into the hands of the Benedictines, it was given over to the
female devotees of the new religion. These nuns continued in possession
for some six hundred years, a long period during which little is known
of it, except the facts stated.

[Illustration: HOLY ORDERS NIMES]

There is some kind of a record that a fire took place in it about the
end of the nuns’ tenancy, and there seems to be a probability that it
had at that time been turned into a hay store. Its later history is a
long record of disaster, for it was used as a fortress, and war had its
share in bringing about the ruin. But whatever troubles it may have come
through, it has an honoured old age, and all the care and protection
which the appreciative twentieth century can suggest is bestowed upon
it.

[Illustration: GATE OF AUGUSTUS–NIMES]

The other early monument, dating from before the first century, is the
Porte d’Auguste, which was built, 16 B.C., in the ramparts of the town.
It was for defensive purposes, and but little remains of the original
structure save two large arches and two smaller ones, which have still
smaller niches above. In the stormy reign of Charles VI. by his orders a
great fortress was erected over this gateway, and for nearly four
hundred years this, perhaps the earliest piece of Roman architecture in
Nîmes, was buried out of sight and out of ken. The other Roman gates of
Nîmes have nearly vanished, portions only remaining of another fortified
gateway that stood and guarded the southern entrance to the town.

On the summit of the hill from which the spring of Nemausus issues, and
which is 350 feet above the sea-level, there stands an octagonal ruined
tower, that rises to a height of about 90 feet. There is a theory that
the tower stands on the site of a more ancient one, built by a
Phocean-Celtic population to guard their city. The tower was originally
some thirty feet higher than it is to-day. The lower story of the
imposing mass was built round a rising mound of earth which filled up
the interior and made a solid stony foundation for the superstructure.
It is known as the “Tour Magne,” and was built, probably, about the same
time as the Porte d’Auguste, and formed a part of the system of the
town’s fortifications, for it commands such an extensive view of the
country round that there can be little doubt that it was a watch-tower
from which the military of the time could observe the movements of any
threatening danger to their town. The “Tour Magne” must have many
memories; if it could only speak, its autobiography would be full of
magic charm. It could tell of fierce strife and a crowd of stirring
incidents that took place between Roman and barbaric Celt, Visigoths,
Franks, and Burgundians, and of the smaller but fierce struggles of
which no history exists.

[Illustration: THE TOUR MAGNE NIMES.]

But one story has been put on record, the only legend current about the
old fortress, and strangely unconnected with warlike undertakings. In
the sixteenth century a farmer named Trucat heard of a prognostication
made by the noted astrologer Nostradamus to the effect that a
husbandman would make a fortune by discovering a golden cock. Golden
animals and birds seem to have run riot through the imaginations of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The credulous Trucat fondly believed
that he was the fortunate man indicated by the prophecy, and that the
treasure he was to discover lay buried in the rocky earth, which filled
the lower storey of the famous “Tour Magne.”

[Illustration: FRIEZE of 12^{TH} CENTURY on the CATHEDRAL at NIMES]

He set about gaining permission to explore the earth inside the tower.
After some trouble he managed to get the consent of the King, Henry IV.,
to excavate, the condition imposed being that it should all be done at
his

[Illustration: WOMAN OF ARLES.]

own expense, and the King further displayed his characteristic
cautiousness by stipulating that two-thirds of any treasure-trove should
go into the imperial exchequer. The story of the “Golden Cock” ends
tamely enough, for neither the precious bird nor any valuables were
found by the superstitious farmer, whose purse was made much lighter
instead of heavier by his expensive search.

Nîmes, unlike Arles (the Gallic Rome), is still a prosperous and growing
city, a popular place of residence and full of modern life. Its streets,
shops, and open spaces, adorned with modern statues, many of great
merit, are highly appreciated by all classes of its inhabitants, who
delight in the beauty of their town. The older families from the smaller
towns around recognise the attractions of the largest city in the lower
valley of the Rhone, and seek it as a place of residence and retirement.

The modern churches are perhaps beautiful to a modern taste; St. Baudile
with its twin needle-pointed spires, St. Perpetué with its single spire
tapering like a pyramid, or St. Paul with its Roman-Byzantine front,
have a completeness that the Cathedral of St. Castor lacks, but they
have not its old associations. St. Castor is surrounded by houses, and
the only view that can be obtained of it is from the tiny square into
which its west door faces–an unforgettable little picture.

High up just under the pediment there is, carved in deep relief, a
series of figures of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They represent
scenes from the Old Testament, and have the rare merit of telling their
story with a simple directness that cannot fail to be recognised by the
meanest intelligence. It is thought that the Cathedral stands on the
spot that was formerly graced by a Roman temple, and it is a likely
enough supposition, for the early Christians in the southern Gallic
towns generally selected the sites of Pagan temples for erecting places
of worship.

The interior of the church, often restored and rebuilt at later periods,
to-day presents a romanesque appearance, and has a very solemn and
mournful aspect when dressed for a funeral. Curtains of sombre velvet
encase the porch, and the little tapers carried by the mourners throw a
weird light on the procession of priests and choir boys as they pass up
the great central nave. Although the Church is disestablished and
disendowed all through France, the ministrations of the clergy are still
sought when the end comes, and these last rites for the dead are of
daily occurrence in the South.

[Illustration: THE CATHEDRAL NIMES.]

The revolutionary South is very conservative in many of its customs. The
women still gather round the wells to fill their pitchers, and one can
without difficulty eliminate the twentieth century and imagine the daily
scene and life in Roman Gaul. The warm climate and small stuffy rooms of
many of the older buildings induce a preference for the open air, and
one can often see the domestic drudges turning the drums of the
coffee-roasters by the side of the Maison Carrée or sawing logs for
firewood in the old way, holding the saw between the knees and with the
hands passing the timber backwards and forwards over its jagged edge.

From the railway station at Nîmes the broad Boulevard Feuchiers, lined
with four rows of plane-trees, leads to a large open space, the
Esplanade. Round this public circus there is an oval balustrade, the
designer of which seems, perhaps unconsciously, to have been influenced
by the great Arena which stands quite near. Even the stone seats
preserve the Roman traditions in their heavy construction. The most
important café in the town stands in the Esplanade, and in winter the
pavement outside is covered with a thick mat upon which the chairs and
table stand. A great coke stove stands in the middle, and customers sit
round the tables and fire listening to the music until the small hours
of the morning. Paris herself can offer no better fare.

[Illustration: REMOULINS]

The “Pont du Gard,” which was one of Agrippa’s greatest engineering
feats, remains the most colossal Roman monument in France. Remoulins,
the little village that lies nearest to the bridge, is easily reached by
train either from Nîmes or Avignon, and the road along the banks of the
Gard is full of rural charm, for it passes vineyards, homesteads,
ploughed fields, and green pastures. Great steep hills rising up on
either side of the river enclose the valley, and when one suddenly
catches sight of the towering masonry of the aqueduct that spans the
river the sensations aroused are bewildering.

Three great tiers of arches stretch across the river, and frame in the
whole horizon. The wonderful warm colour of the masonry contrasts
against the sky, which, framed in the fifty golden arches, assumes an
intensity that no pigment could reproduce. On closer inspection it is
seen that the stones of which this giant is composed are laid one upon
the other, fitted and adjusted without the aid of mortar, and that even
the smaller arches of the third tier are laid in the same fashion. The
channel, however, which carried the water along the top is lined with
hard cement. This tunnel is partly roofed with large flat stones placed
at intervals, and leaving gaps open to the sky.

[Illustration: AN OLD WATER MILL NEAR THE PONT-DU-GARD.]

To stand on the top of this immense pile of masonry and survey the
valley and distant country is to add a unique sensation to life’s
experiences. The river is far below with a toylike mill upon its edge,
the winding roadway is dotted with specks that look like insects, and
the far-off mountains float like clouds in the distant haze. From
whatever point of view it is contemplated–from above or below–from a
distance or from at hand it fills the mind with an unbounded respect for
the genius of its builders. As in the case of the arenas, mere
measurement fails to convey any idea of its vastness. That it is 880
feet or so long and 160 feet high may be interesting to builders and
engineers, but to the majority of spectators these figures utterly fail
to express anything of the magnificence of the Pont du Gard. Like the
Maison Carrée and the amphitheatres of Nîmes and Arles, the aqueduct has
figured in many a picture and engraving.

The rainbow of stone that fills the sky in Robert’s romantic picture now
in the Louvre conveys some of the beauty of the “Bridge,” but fails to
suggest the grandeur or its size. Agrippa and his soldiers accomplished
more than a difficult engineering feat when they carried the waters of
Uzès through hills and over valleys to their much-honoured colony of
Nemausus. The Pont du Gard is far too noteworthy and imposing a
structure to have escaped the attentions of the romantic imaginations of
the Middle Ages, and a legend has been handed down to the effect that
the Devil himself built it, and required as payment for his stupendous
task the soul of the first living creature who should cross it. The
first living creature was a hare (the natives presumably being backward
in risking their souls); and the Devil, exasperated at the poor reward
for all his trouble, turned the hare into stone, and to-day ingenious
natives point to a curious Roman device carved on the keystone of one of
the arches and call it the hare of the Pont du Gard.

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