The Amphitheatre of Nîmes is a perfect illustration of the degree of perfection attained by Roman engineers in designing and constructing this type of extremely complex building. It demonstrates perfect symmetry: oval-shaped, it measures 133 metres long and 101 metres wide, with an arena of 68 by 38 metres. 21 metres high, its exterior façade comprises two floors of sixty superimposed arches and an attic, separated by a cornice. At the top, pre-drilled stones were positioned to overhang so that long poles could be hung over the arena. A huge canvas canopy was then attached to these poles, thereby providing protection for the spectators against the sun and bad weather. Originally, all the arcades on the ground floor, separated by Tuscan pilasters, were open to act as entrances or exits.
The stone used comes from quarries at Roquemaillère and Baruthel, located near Nîmes. n Roman times, the monument could hold 24,000 spectators spread over 34 rows of terraces divided into four separate areas or maeniana. Each was accessed via a gallery and hundred of stairwells and passages called vomitories. This clever arrangement meant that there was no risk of bottlenecks when the spectators flooded in.
The amphitheatre was designed so that everyone had an unrestricted view of the whole arena. Several galleries were located beneath the arena, and were accessed by trap doors and a hoist-lift system. As a result, the decorative effects, animals and gladiators could access the arena during the games.
On top of one of the bays, we can see the fore-body parts of two bulls with their legs folded either side of the arch. Those on the upper level, which are better preserved, bear a triangular pediment. This bay, which faces the town, offered direct access to the lower terraces opposite the small end of the arena.
Another decoration in bas-relief, located on one of the pilasters opposite the “Palais du Justice” (Law Courts), shows a she-wolf giving milk to two children, Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. Unlike the Roman version, the Nîmes she-wolf is looking towards the children.
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