Wednesday, November 16, 2011

detritusofempire: Nimes

Nîmes is an active, fun city to visit. The ancient and the modern make comfortable neighbors. It is a very old city, going back to the Iron Age and deriving its name from the local spring deity, Nemausus. There are some impressive Roman remains to be seen. In addition to the amphitheater and the “Temple of Diana” there is the so called Maison Carree.

This is one of the best preserved Roman temples north of the Alps. They have even figured out the inscription that was once on its front:

If you look very closely on the flat horizontal stretch above the columns you see an irregular series of holes.

These were mounting points for large bronze letters that spelled out:

C CAESARI AUGUSTI FL COS L CAESARI AUGUSTI F COS DESIGNATO PRINCIPUS JUVENTUTIS This dates the temple, it was dedicated to the two adopted sons of Augustus. Lucius died in 2 AD just after being “designated” consul. The words have lasted 2009 years. And counting.

But that is not even a record for Nimes. After the unsettled medieval period Nimes became a center for textile manufacture. In particular they made a very durable fabric for work clothing called serge de Nimes. Later made exceedingly popular by Levi Strauss the fabric type has been shortened to denim, still honoring Nemausius after some 2500 years.

For a fleeting moment I thought I had another “persistance of Nimes” phenomena. Right across the street from the Maison Carree is this:

I was so darned sure that the Lacoste logo was based on the city emblem of Nimes, here seen rather handsomely on a parking bollard.

This preserves the image from Roman coins minted in Nimes. There is some debate as to whether it simply commemorates the victory of Augustus over Egypt (note the chains on the crocodile), or if it indicates that demobilized veterans of that campaign were settled here.

Note the abbreviation for Colonia Nemausus.

Alas, the historical convergence was a little too good to be true. From the downfall of Cleopatra to mid level sportsware is too great a leap. The real story of Lacoste is here.

When we were there the Maison Carree had been converted into some kind of theater showing a 3D film of the history of Nimes. It seemed heavy on the gladitorial stuff we had just learned about, and members of our party were footsore. We passed.