Nimes - A little History
Origninally called Nemausus, after a spring. Nimes became the center for retired roman legions who had served under Julius Ceasar, - as they were given plots of land around Nimes, where they built their villas. Nimes was situated on the Via Domitia, a Roman road created in 118 BC which connected Italy to Spain.
Prior to the Romans, 4000 to 3500 BC, the area was known as Serre Paradis where semi-nomadic peoples lived. Slowly the population increased in the Bronze age, and the 2 meter high menhir at Courbessac (or La Poudriere) stands in amongst vineyards, near the airstrip - the earliest monument in Nîmes.
Towards the center of Nimes - the hill called Mt. Cavalier was the site of the early oppidum, hill fort, which became later part of the The Tour Magne. Following the Wars of Gaul and the fall of Marseille (49 BC) Nîmes to became independant but under Rome.
It was not until Augustus that Nimes became the capital of Narbonne province.
Under Augustus the town prospered - there was constructed a ring of ramparts six kilometres long, backed up by fourteen towers, with gates - two remain today, Porta Augusta and the Porte de France. Nimes was a large city with a population of about 60,000. For entertainment and sport he had the the Forum built. For water - an aqueduct was built to bring water from the hills to the north. crossing the river Gard between Uzes and Remoulins - see the monumental and stunning Pont du Gard just 20 km north east of the city. Nimes also had a civil basilica, a curia, a gymnasium and possibly a circus, and an ampitheatre form the 2nd century AD. Nimes was prosperous until the end of the 3rd century (the baths were created under Emperor Constantine). It became the administrative center for southern Gaul. In 473 AD the Visigoths took the city from the Romans.
Christianity became important after the Romans, but the town was briefly occupied by the Moors from Spain in 710. The occupation came to an end in 754 under Pepin the Short. The town, destroyed by so many offensives had lost its position and wealth when it was a Gallo-Roman city. The amphitheatre, became the administrative center.
Nimes had relative calm during the Carolingian period, but suffered partly because of internal power struggles between lay power resident in the old amphitheatre, where lived the Viguier and the Knights of the Arena; and the religious power based in the Bishop's palace, near the cathedral; and the city being represented by four Consuls who sat in the Maison Carrée.
Nîmes finally came under the umbrella of the King of France.
Nemausus, Nismes Civitas Narbonensis had continually protected itself with battlements and city walls, becoming Nîmes, a prominent Protestant stronghold, struggling often in religious struggles, and the pestilence of plagues.
During the 17th century, Nimes prospered, the population expanded to 50 000 persons, and industry and manufacturing gave a financial boost, noticable in the construction of Notre-Dame-Saint-Castor, the Bishop's palace and numerous mansions (called "Hotels").
Les Quais de la Fontaine, the first civic gardens of France, were laid out in 1738–55, bordering the water channel that supplied the city.
In the 19th century, Nimes expanded further, with developments in production of silk and cotton, becoming indeed globally known, via the entrepreneurship of Levi Strauss, and the production of Denim - that now dominates contemporary clothing.
Jardins de la Fontaine
On the edge of the Inner City, west of the Maison Carrée, lie the beautiful Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Source). They were laid out in 1750, in the area of the former fortified ramparts and include the ruins of an ancient temple of a sacred spring. The Gardens of the fountain are the first public gardens in the history of France and among the first in Europe. The gardens are located at the foot of Mont Cavalier, above which rises the Tour Magne, divided into two parts: the lower level is occupied by a French garden, with wide aisles interspersed with stone balustrades and life-size Baroque statues. Take a walk to one side to visit the "Temple of Diana" a sacred fountain dedicated to Nemausus, deity to engineering, and the water that made Nimes flourish. The building that housed it has, since almost all disappeared, but you can get an idea of its size, dimensions, by viewing the ruins. Towards forested Mount Cavalier is the second garden that has more romantically created paths designed around nature in disorder. At the top of the hill from the Tour Magne, you get a superb view.
La Tour Magne
For a great view of Nimes visit La Tour Magne, which was once part of the old ramparts and at the same time a watchtower over the Via Domitia linking Italy to Spain. La Tour Magne was a major part of life in the Roman City and is now the only one left standing built by Emperor Augustus. It was
constructed at the highest point of the city, Mont Cavalier - well positioned to dominate the whole plain and to be a focal point for roads, travellers, and transportation.
Originally, it was an oval dry stone tower with a height of 18 meters, marking both a temple, and protecting the original fortress.
Augustus doubled its height to show how much Nimes was the center of Southern Gaul.
For some time the tower had a military role (being used as defence against the English during the Hundred Years War).
Les Arènes de Nimes
The Roman Arena of Nîmes was built around 70A.D., and later renewed in 1863 to serve as a bullring. Indeed the best time to visit, and to imagine the Roman spectacle is to visit during the two annual bullfights.
The building encloses an elliptical central space 133 m long by 101 m wide. It is ringed by 34 rows of seats supported by a vaulted construction. It has a capacity of 16,300 spectators and since 1989 has a movable cover and a heating system.
It was orignally constructed during Emperor Augustus' time. After the fall of the roman empire, the Visigoths fortified the arena, and surrounded it by a wall. In subsequent years the viscounts of Nîmes constructed a fortified palace within the amphitheater, which created later a small community with 700 inhabitants and two chapels.
It was only in 1863, when the decision was made to convert the amphitheater into its present form.
The Maison Carrée is one of the best preserved temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire.
It was built in 16 BC, and was rebuilt in later years by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who was behind for the Pantheon in Rome, later to be dedicated to his two sons, Gaius Julius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young. The inscription dedicating the temple to Gaius and Lucius was removed in medieval times.
The temple owes its well preserved state to the fact that it became a Christian church in the fourth century, then a meeting hall for the city's consuls, a canon's house, a horse stable during the French Revolution and later a storehouse for the city archives.
In 1823 it became a museum. "Maison Carrée" means a "long square", or rectangle - a reference to the building's shape.
A large door (6.87 m high by 3.27 m wide) leads to a small and windowless interior, where the shrine was originally housed. This is now used to house occasional art exhibitions. Up until the 19th century, it formed part of a complex of adjoining buildings which were later destroyed, and the Maison Carrée housed what is now the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes (from 1821 to 1907)
The Maison Carrée inspired the neoclassical Église de la Madeleine in Paris and in USA the Virginia State Capitol, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who had a stucco model made of the Maison Carrée while he was minister to France in 1785.
Sir Norman Foster, the English architect (Millau viaduct) was commissioned to build this modern art gallery, on the far side of the square, replacing the city theater of Nîmes (burnt down in 1952).
The building is in marked contrast to the Maison Carrée but complements the roman pillars with modern steel and glass. 
The building houses the Musée d'Art Contemporain - which has a good collection of art from the last 4 decades with special exhibitions.
Musee Archeaologique - Museum of Archaeology and Natural History
Bordering Nimes Old Town in the east is the Musée Archéologique (officially Musée Lapidaire/Musée d'Histoire Naturelle), housed in the former Jesuits' college. Its exhibits include Gallo-Roman finds and inscriptions, sculptures up to the Middle Ages and an exceptional collection of coins. A beautiful mosaic can be found in the old Jesuit chapel.
Musee des Cultures Taurines - Museum of Bullfighting Culture
Unique in France - the Musée des Cultures Taurines is situated near Les Arenes, shows how bullfighting has been a close ally to Nimes, since the mid nineteenth century. How the bulls of the Camargue, were bred for the arenas. The ground floor is occupied by the permanent exhibition "Tauromachies nîmoises". With over 9400 items in the collection, the museum has become an eminent research facility.
Denim and Jeans!
The word "Denim" comes from the name of a sturdy fabric called serge, made in Nîmes, France, by the Andre family. Originally known as Serge de Nîmes, the name was shortened to denim. Denim was at first colored blue with indigo dye to make blue "jeans," but originally "jean" then was made from a lighter cotton textile; the present day word use of "jean" originates from the French word for Genoa, in Italy (Gênes), where the first denim trousers were manufactured.