One of the most fascinating things about the French department of Gard in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon is that 2,000 years after the Romans first arrived, their visual and cultural imprint is still omnipresent. In 118 B.C., the Romans built the Via Domitia, a road that connected Italia with Hispania (Spain). It was begun around the time of the first Roman colony in Gaul, Colonia Narbo Martius, which is now known as Narbonne. The Via Domitia allowed Rome to control the whole of southern Gaul and to distribute land to Roman colonists. The A9, the main modern highway in the region, mostly follows this original Roman road.
Gard was inhabited by Celtic tribes when the Romans occupied the region. Recognizing the strategic importance of a well-watered Celtic settlement called Nemausus, they immediately went about rebuilding it as a Roman city, today known as Nîmes. The Celtic settlement’s sacred spring became a sanctuary consecrated to the Emperor Augustus. Colonia Augusta Nemausus (Nîmes) was honored with a coin engraved with the abbreviation “Col Nem” and a design of a crocodile chained to a palm tree. They are still entwined on the city’s coat of arms.
Under the reign of Augustus, Nîmes was provided with running water, sewers and all the infrastructure necessary to sustain a growing and increasingly prosperous town. As a reflection of the emperor’s affection, he ordered the construction of the two-tiered amphitheater in A.D. 70. Seating 24,000 spectators, the Arènes de Nîmes is still in regular use.