Montmartre

 
 
 
The final day of our holiday and as our train back to London didn’t leave until after 3 p.m. We had a last morning to spend in Paris. So we decided to spend it in Montmartre.
The area around the Sacre Coeur and Place de Terte are real honey traps, thronging with tourists, but stray a short distance from the crowds and you’re soon into much quieter areas with a genuine village atmosphere, with few tourists.
First of all up to la Place d’Abbesses with it’s Art Nouveau entrance designed by Guimard. This was originally at Hotel de Ville station but was moved here some time ago.
The square was busy.
There was a small flea market taking place
And a Hot Club de France type jazz band playing. The guitarist was very good playing Django Rheinhardt style.
 
We wandered down to the square at the bottom of the steep hill leading up to the Sacre Coeur. It’s named after the socialist/anarchist who was active in the 1871 Commune, who was exiled to the New Caledonia prison colony where she supported an uprising by the indigineous people before returning to france where she continued her revolutionary activities.
 
Two of us got the funicular up to the top. The other two walked up the steep steps.
 
It was a clear day so there was a good view over Paris.
But watch out for picpockets. I was harassed to sign a petition by someone who didn’t look like an activisit and didn’t even say what the petition was about. There were no billboards, nbanners or newspaper sellers either. Instead I was persostently asked to “sign the petition”. I firmly refused, kept my hands on my valuables and walked away. A clear atempt to distract, confirmed afterwards that it was a well known scam. The scammers were behaving forcefully and persistently, trying on a well known scam at a major tourist attraction. Yet there were no police around to discourage them.
Then on to La Place de Terte
After that we left the crowds behind as we wandered round the quieter streets a short distance from the hubub
 
 
 

Saint Jean de Montmartre

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Saint Jean de Montmartre is an Art Nouveau style church in Montmartre, opposite the entrance to the Abbesses Metro station. It was built between 1897 and 1904 and is constructed from reinforced cement on a metal frame rather than from more traditional materials.. It’s architect was  Anatole de Baudot.

The facade is constructed of red brick and ceramic tiles

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The exterior decoration is relatively restrained, particularly compared with 29 Avenue Rapp, the main feature being the use of pointed arches to produce patterns reminiscent of Middle Eastern, Arabic, architecture.

The geometric design is repeated inside the church, particularly along the balcony which was installed for structural reasons

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The grey concrete surfaces did give the interior a rather sombre look and feel. The area around the altar was more colourfully decorated. I understand that it was intended to decorate more of the interior in this way but this was prevented by a lack of funding.

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I wasn’t particularly impressed by the stained glass in the main part of the church but I did like the simple Modernist geometric design of the glass in the bright The Chapelle de la Vierge (Lady Chapel) – “less is more”.

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I quite liked this chandelier like light fitting. Rather 1960’s in style.

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and he marble font, with it’s simple geometric form and decoration was attractive. I’m not so sure about the legs, though.

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It was an interesting building and certainly “worth the detour” as the Michelin guide would say!

There’s more information about the church here

Picasso et les Toros

Over twenty years ago I was reluctantly dragged to the Picasso museum in Paris. I wasn’t keen; at that time I couldn’t see what was so special about Picasso. But the visit opened my eyes. One of the things that particularly made an impression on me was the bull’s head that he had created from a bicycle saddle and handlebars. It was so simple and yet so effective. Previously, I would have taken the view that this was something anyone could have done. But what I realised was although that was true, it is so simple anyone could have created it, very few people would have thought of doing it, and not only that he’d got it just right. It looked like a bull’s head.

I think that it was this simple little work that made me start to question my prejudice and begin to appreciate Modern Art.

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Picture source here

There were several other items relating to bullfighting in the museum. Little sketches created by a few strokes of the brush that really sum up Picasso’s skill as an artist.

Picture source; Musée Picasso

Picasso was a passionate fan of bullfighting and during the years of the Franco dictatorship when he wasn’t able to attend the Corrida in his native Spain, he regularly attended the bullfights held in France in Arles and Nîmes with his mistress, Francoise Gilot (the mother of his daughter, Paloma), and friends including, Jean Cocteau.

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Not surprisingly bulls and bullfighting provided the inspiration for many of his works.

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The next time I saw something by Picasso on the bullfighting theme was when we visited the small, but excellent, Musée d’Art Moderne in Céret at the foot of the Pyrenees in Catalan country in south west France, where Picasso had stayed in 1911, 1912 and 1913 during the period when he was developing the Cubist style with Georges Braque. One of the highlights of their collection is a series of paintings on ceramic cups created by Pablo Picasso on the theme of the bullfight – les coupelles tauromachie .

The series of paintings covers all the main stages of the bullfight from the paseo to the death of the bull.

Images from www.picasso.fr

The images are all very simple little sketches, but exceptionally well executed and very effective.

Musée d’Art Moderne de Céret

Image from www.sunfrance.com

While I was visiting Nîmes I discovered that two of the museums in the town were holding exhibitions featuring Picasso. To mark it’s 10th anniversary and the 60th Feria de Nimes le Musée des Cultures Taurines  was holding an exhibition of Picasso’s relationship with bullfighting “Picasso, sous le soleil de Françoise, Nîmes et les toros”. I was keen to visit. Fortunately, unlike Britain, where everything has to shut at 5 p.m., the museums and attractions in Nîmes stayed open later, and as the  le Musée des Cultures Taurines was open until 6 p.m. I managed to catch the last hour before it closed after I returned from the Pont du Gard (the bus got back to the station at quarter to five)

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It was an excellent little exhibition featuring letters and photographs relating to Picasso and his visits to Nîmes, and an impressive selection of ceramics, paintings and prints all about bulls and bullfighting.

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Picasso at the bullfight in les Arênes de Nîmes

The pictures included a small painting of a picador he painted when he was only 8 years old.

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I particularly liked a series of prints of bulls starting with an image drawn with just a few lines and working up to a more comprehensive drawing of a “toro”.

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Now I have to say that I’m set against any “sport” that involves deriving pleasure from the slaughter of animals, so I’m not in favour of the Corrida. I might feel uncomfortable with the subject matter, but I don’t think that stops me from appreciating the genius of the works on this theme created by Picasso. Or am I being hypocritical?

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The other Picasso related exhibition – Pablo Picasso et  Françoise Gilot – peintre et muse was showing at le Musée du Vieux Nîmes. It features photographs of their life together and a selection of paintings and drawings by Francoise Gilot, who is an artist in her own right. I’d have liked to have seen this too, but, alas, time had run out.

Musée d’Art Contemporain – Nîmes

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Nîmes is blessed with a number of museums and art galleries, including one devoted to contemporary art. It’s located in the Carré d’Art – the modern building designed by Norman Foster that’s opposite the town’s Roman temple. the Maison Carré.

My time in Nîmes was limited, but I managed spend an hour before I caught the bus to the Pont du Gard looking at the works on display from the gallery’s permanent collection. They have a good collection on display in a serious of light, spacious rooms on the first floor of the building. It’s not massive so an hour was enough to have a good look round. The following are some of the works I particularly liked

Bleu d’aout (1961) by Jacques Villeglé is a collage made from torn posters – with one poster pasted over another is torn so that part of the one underneath is revealed. It’s a technique for which this Breton artist is well known

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Next to it was another collage made from poster, La Rouille de la Tour Eiffel (1967-71), by François Dufrêne (1930-1982), who actually started out as a poet before turning to visual art.

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Villeglé and Dufrêne, together with another artist, Raymond Hains, specialised in creating collages from posters and were known as the “Affichistes”. There’s an article about them, in French, here. Their work can be described as Décollage

the opposite of collage; instead of an image being built up of all or parts of existing images, it is created by cutting, tearing away or otherwise removing, pieces of an original image.

François Dufrêne – image via Notbored

This painting lapis lazuli II (1994) by the German artist Sigmar Polke is painted using only one pigment – the semi precious stone of the title.

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The swirl of monochrome colour reminded me of a stormy sea or the patterns produced by a crystal of copper sulphate dissolving in a beaker of warm warm water where the colour is carried through the liquid by the convection currents.

I believe that this painting was one of about 20 that the artist created especially for an exhibition of his work held in Nîmes in 1994. So perhaps it is meant to represent the indigo dye used to colour “cloth de Nîmes” (better known as denim) swirling in the dying vat.

This painting by Simon Hantai, Sans titre (1967), has also been created using one colour.

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Abstract paintings created using a single colour were definitely a theme in the gallery. Here’s another one,  Romi (1993) by by Bernard Frize.

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Although it’s an abstract work it reminded me of a Chinese landscape painting and looking at it the shapes reminded me of hills, rivers, lakes and villages.

The gallery were also showing some works by Gerhard Richter, including this large scale abstract canvas Abstraktes Bild, (1989). It rather reminded me of a late period Monet.

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In a darkened room in the corner of the gallery there was an installation where lights shone on  various objects that were being rotated, producing moving shadows on the wall. Shadow Installation (2005) by Hans Peter Feldmann. It was probably my favourite work in the gallery. The picture really doesn’t do it justice.

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The following Youtube video of another of his works gives a feel for how it looked.

The Carré d’Art have built up a good collection of contemporary, which shows you what can be achieved by a Local Authority with a little imagination and a lot of determination. And its brave too, as it’s all too easy to go for the lowest common denominator and buy populist pictures. I didn’t like everything on display, and why should I? But I did discover some artists that I can explore further in the future.

The gallery also hold temporary exhibitions on the second floor. These have featured some major contemporary artists in the past. The current exhibition consists of works by the German artist Vera Lutter, who now lives in America. She takes photographs using a giant pin hole camera, printing off large scale negative images. There’s an entrance fee for the temporary exhibitions and given my time constraints I wasn’t able to have a proper look around. I did manage to get a quick peek at some of the pictures .

Le Pont du Gard

P1040970 You wouldn’t stay in Paris and not go to look at the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. So while I was staying in Nîmes I was very keen to visit the Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard which is only 20 km away from the city and is one of the most popular historic attractions in France Technically, an aqueduct is an artificial channel that transports water from one place to another. The Pont du Gard is, strictly speaking, a bridge that carries an aqueduct over the River Gardon. Although Nîmes has it’s own spring the Romans decided that they would bring even more water into their regional capital to supply fountains, baths and private homes. Having plentiful water that could be used lavishly was a demonstration of the power and wealth of the city. 2012-06-10 12.03.12 The aqueduct took water from the springs of the Fontaine d’Eure near Uzès  along a winding route, 50 kilometres long, into Nîmes (Nemausus). To achieve this they had to build a string of bridges, tunnels and other constructions of which the Pont du Gard was the largest and grandest. There are remnants of the aqueduct at other locations along its route, although none are as complete as the Pont. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, descending only 17 m vertically from start to finish and delivering 20,000 cubic meters to Nîmes every day. The following map (source – Wikipedia) shows the route of the aqueduct. File:Carte geographique Pont du Gard.gif To get to the site I took the B21 bus from Nîmes. The service runs two or three times of day from the bus station behind the train station and terminates in the car park near the visitor centre. The bus left at 11:30 and arrived about 45 minutes later just after 12. The bus back didn’t leave until just after 4 in the afternoon and I thought that with 4 hours to spend there I might end up kicking my heels. That wasn’t the case – I could have stayed longer. P1040958 There’s a visitor centre on the left bank with an excellent museum which provided information on the history and context of the aqueduct and explained how it was constructed. They also showed a film on a loop that was shot by someone flying a micro-light over the aqueduct from start to finish. So as well as getting an aerial view of the Pont du Gard the other remains could be seen. I enjoyed looking round the museum, but it was the bridge itself that was the main purpose, and highlight of the visit. 2012-06-10 11.38.02 It’s a remarkable construction with 3 levels of arches, all designed to support the water channel that crowns the top level. It’s still in remarkably good condition given that it’s almost 2000 years old . Although it has been renovated several times over the centuries. Until relatively recently it was possible to walk along the water channel itself, which must be a hair raising experience. I believe it’s still possible to do this once a month by booking on a special guided tour. It’s in a stunning location with the river running along a wooded valley. P1040964 Both sides of the river are accessible by road and once they’ve parked up visitors can cross from one side to the other over a bridge that was tacked onto the side of the Roman structure in 1743. The builders did quite a good job as they made it so that it matched the structure. It’s the same level as the lowest level of the Pont du Gard itself and  the arches match exactly – this can be seen in the picture below which I took underneath one of the arches – the Roman arch is to the left, the later “extension” to the right. P1040955 Crossing the bridge you get a close look at the the stonework and can see where past visitors have carved their names or marks into the stone. In many cases these were carved by journeymen masons visiting the bridge during their traditional tour around the country. P1040944 There are trails along the river banks and in the wooded hills on both sides of the river. I climbed up to a couple of viewpoints above the bridge. It was worth the climb to get a view of the bridge and valley. P1040963 Like on many other French rivers, it’s possible to hire canoes upstream and paddle along with the flow down to and under the bridge. P1040969 The river isn’t too deep for most of the year and there are stony beaches where it’s possible to dip your feet in the river or have a swim. 2012-06-10 11.52.52 There’s plenty of information about the Pont du Gard on the Internet. There’e Wikipedia, of course, and I found this site which provided a good brief summary about the history of the bridge.

Old Montpellier

Montpellier is the 8th largest, and fastest growing, city in France. Compared to Nimes and other towns in the region founded by the Romans or earlier cultures, it’s a relative newcomer, only being established in the 10th Century and coming to prominence in the 12th century as a trading centre.

When I arrived last Saturday, I had a few hours to explore before setting out to the match. Time was limited so I concentrated on have a look around the old town the old heart of the city, le quartier de l’Ecusson. Dating from Medieval times, its a maze of narrow streets with buildings that have been adapted and modified over the years. It’s largely car free, so is really easy and pleasant to explore on foot wandering through the narrow passageways and courtyards.

I entered the old town via la Tour de la Babote, a corner tower that used to form part of the old city walls which are long gone. In Occitan, the dialect of the Languedoc, babota means an insect larvae or a silk worm chrysalis. So I guess people used to think that’s what it resembled.

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Only the lower part, built in the twelfth century, is original. After the destruction of the walls, the tower was saved, but at that time it was only about fifteen meters high. Its height was increased when an An observatory was installed in the eighteenth century by the Royal Academy of Sciences. (For more information see here).

This is what it looks like from inside the old town

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This building is in la Place Saint Roch, opposite the old church. Look closely and see if you can spot what’s unusual about it

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Well the windows, doors, plants and people on the right half of the building aren’t real – they’re painted on. Its a Trompe-l’œil.

This is the neo-Gothic church of Saint Roch, which is dedicated to the patron saint of Montpellier. Built in the 19th Century its been recently renovated. It was never actually finished – only the the nave , the aisles and choir were built.

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There are lots of pleasant squares and typical French buildings

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La Rue de la Loge  runs from the Place de la Comédie, the city’s main square, to the centre of the old town. At the bottom end it’s the main shopping street full of shops and boutiques. At the top end it’s lined with rather grand, typically French, apartment blocks.

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La Place Jean-Jaurès is roughly half way down la Rue de la Loge, near the covered market and is filled with cafes and bars. It’s a good place to stop and take a break.

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In the centre of the square there’s a statue of Jean Jaures himself, the former leader of the French Socialist Party before the First World War. During the build up to the war, he argued for peaceful negotiations between the European governments and was assassinated on 31st July, 1914, by a young French nationalist who wanted to go to war with Germany.

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There’s another monument to him in the park at the north end of la Place de la Comédie

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At the very top of La Rue de la Loge thee’s a triumphal arch, similar to, but much smaller than, L’Arc de Triomph in Paris.

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It stands at the entrance to La Promenade du Peyrou, a very French park created in the 17th Century.

In the middle of the park there’s a statue of the Sun King Louis 14th sat on his horse.

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At the end, which is the highest point of the city there’s a building that looks like a mausoleum or something. It’s actually a water tower.

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It was fed by an aqueduct, the design of which was based on the Roman Pont du Gard.

(picture source http://www.languedocfrance.com/montpellier/index.html)

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La Place de la Comédie is Montpellier’s lively main square. It’s lined with cafés and grand buildings including the city’s Opera.

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Catalans v Wigan in Montpellier

Last Saturday I caught the TGV from Nîmes to Montpellier to go and watch Wigan play the Catalans Dragons at the Stade de la Mosson. Although the Catalans are based in Perpignan, which is about 100 miles further west close to the Spanish border, they take some of their home games “on the road” to try get some more publicity for Rugby League in the South of France and “spread the word”.

The high speed  double decker TGV arrived on time

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and just over 20 minutes later, after a very smooth, comfortable ride, I was in Montpellier.

I had a few hours to look round before making my way to la Place de la Comédie, the main focal point of the city, where the fans from both sides were gathering ready to catch the tram over to Stade de la Mosson which is on the outskirts of the city.

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Rugby League is a family sport and crowd trouble is very rare (although not completely unknown). So there was no segregation at the stadium and the fans mingled freely both before and after the game.

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Although Perpignan is in France, the locals generally consider themselves to be Catalans first and are very proud of this. Here’s the Catalans flag being displayed on the pitch before the match.

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The Catalans’ mascots.

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Wigan fans in the stands ready for the match to start.

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The final score.

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The match was perhaps a little closer than the score suggests. Catalans bombed a couple of good chances- but Wigan were definitely the better team on the day, playing some good, flowing rugby and scoring some excellent tries, two of them when they were down to 12 men when Gil Dudson was in the sin bin for 10 minutes.

Even though they’d lost, the Catalan fans were gracious in defeat and were very friendly. A number of them came over and shook my hand congratulating me for my team’s win.

They always organise a party after the game . There was a band and fans of both sides were mingling and dancing.

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Here’s a couple of friendly Catalan fans.

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and another two.

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Waiting for the tram back to the city centre.

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On the tram I got talking to a Catalans fan from Perpignan. We managed to communicate to some extent, talking about the game and the state of Rugby League, despite his limited English and my poor spoken French. About 25 years ago I took an A level in French at night school and got reasonably good. But the saying “if you don’t use it you lose it” is definitely true with respect to languages. Although I can still make a good stab at reading French, I struggle with  conversation, which is a more difficult skill. But we managed to make each other undertood, I think, at least to some extent!

When I got back to the city centre I stopped for a café crème  in a café in the market square to perk me up before I headed down to the station to catch my train back to Nîmes.

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Nîmes – the town with an accent

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I’d never thought of going to Nîmes, a small town in the Languedoc in the South of France, close to the border with Provence. But when I decided, on the spur of the moment, to go to the South of France to watch Wigan play the Catalans Dragons (at Rugby League) in Montpellier, I discovered that I could fly there from Liverpool. Rather than stay in Montpellier itself, as I thought Nîmes looked like an interesting town, I decided to base myself there so I could visit the sights, getting the TGV to and from Montpellier on the Saturday to watch the match. I arrived Friday lunch time and flew back Monday midday, but I managed to pack a lot into a short stay.

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I booked into a small 2 star hotel – the Hôtel des Tuileries – which was just on the edge of the town centre from where all the main sites of interest could be reached easily on foot.

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It was very French in style, but the owners were English. I had a very comfortable room which had a small balcony.

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I like a brew, and there wasn’t a kettle, but there was a small fridge which was ideal for keeping drinks nice and cold. When I got back in the evening, tired after a long day on my feet, it was very pleasant to sit on the balcony with a nice cold drink. The owners were extremely friendly and helpful, providing on advice and bus times when I wanted to go out to the Pont du Gard.  I arrived early on the Friday, just before midday, but my room was ready so I was able to check in.

The small airport is about 10 miles or so south of the town, but there’s a coach (Navette) that’s timed to meet incoming planes. It was a little expensive at 5 Euros each way, but cheaper than taking a taxi.

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People have lived on the site since Neolithic times, but the town’s origins date back to the sixth Century BC when the Celts settled there near to a spring which provided a precious source of water. It was conquered by the Romans who buit a town that they called Colonia Nemausus, meaning the “colony of Nemausus”, the local Celtic god.

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It was quite an important settlement, (it was made the capital of Narbonne province by Augustus Caesar) with fortified town walls, a palace complex, temple and an amphitheatre. They even built a 50 kilometre aqueduct bringing water to the town to supplement that provided by the spring. There are a number of Roman buildings very good condition and still used to stage events including concerts and bullfights,

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a remarkably well preserved, very beautiful, small Roman temple (la Maison Carrée)

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and a number of significant ruins, including la Tour Magne,

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the “Temple” of Diana (that wasn’t really a temple”)

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and two gate ways (la Porte Auguste and la Porte de France).

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The town stagnated in the Middle Ages but prospered in the 17th Century due to the development of the cloth trade. It’s famous, of course for cloth de Nîmes (i.e. denim). A large proportion of the people of Nîmes and much of the South West of France became Protestants and the area was heavily affected by the Wars of Religion in the second half of the 16th Century. The cloth trade was developed by protestants who turned to the industry when they were excluded from public life.

Today, Nîmes is a very pleasant, lively town with a well preserved old town. Although it is proud of it’s Roman remains and older buildings, it is not fossilised. They even have some modern architecture, including the Carré d’Art, which was designed by Norman Foster and houses a library, a media library, a  documentation centre and a modern art museum.

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There were several museums and galleries and I was only able to visit a few during my short stay. Two of the museums had exhibitions focusing on Picasso, his relationship with Francoise Gillot and with bullfighting, which included a significant number of his works (he was a very prolific artist). I visited one of them, at the “Bull museum” (le musée des cultures taurines), – Sous le soleil de Françoise : Picasso, Nîmes et les toros – and it was excellent. Unfortunately I ran out of time before I could visit the other one, Françoise Gilot, peintre et muse, at the Museum of old Nîmes ( le musée de Vieux Nîmes).

There were plenty of places to eat in cafes and restaurants to suit most budgets and I had some very good meals while I was there.

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I particularly enjoyed strolling around the narrow streets of the old town where there were a number of interesting old buildings.

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Some of the grander houses near to the Cathederal and in and around the old town were built for the Protestant cloth barons to show off their wealth.

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There were a number of interesting churches too, built in the “neo”, historicist styles popular in the 19th Century, just off the main Boulevards that encircle the old town. Most were neo-Gothic

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but I was particularly taken by this more unusual neo-Romanesque church as it’s a style we don’t see here in the UK.

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It’s not completely authentic – the walls have buttresses, for example, but it has a very Romanesque look to it with it’s round arches., relatively small windows and squat, octagonal tower.

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I really enjoyed my short stay and could easily have stayed for a few more days. It was particularly nice to be able to walk around in short sleeves in the sunshine, especially as the weather at home was cool and very wet. A return visit is definitely on the cards in the future, even if it does mean flying by Ryan Air.