Once a year in Spring, the ancient city of Nîmes is invaded by troops of Roman soldiers. Over the course of three days, the Roman Games, or “Les Grands Jeux Romains”, take place in the town’s historic amphitheatre. Re-enactors, in beautiful and realistic battledress, converge on the city centre, to relive ancient Roman history.
As it was the last weekend of our children’s holiday, I thought we’d make a day out of visiting Les Grands Jeux Romains. Our brood wasn’t really up for it, being teenagers they would rather stay in bed on a Saturday morning… However, because I had done my homework, I knew it was going to be spectacular. So, three weeks in advance, I bought us some last-minute tickets and off we went to the “Rome of France”. Here’s a tip: get your tickets early, as the games are very popular. I bought our tickets almost too late, so there wasn’t much choice left for our seats.
Even Chéri thought I was slightly overenthusiastic when we arrived in Nîmes at 10h15. Ok, I might have got a bit carried away… But as soon as we had parked our car in Parking Les Arènes, the fun began. In the morning, the 1,000 sandaled feet of more than 500 re-enactors marched through the streets of Nîmes. The games have a different theme every year; the theme for 2019 was “Les Rois Barbares”. This meant that some bad-ass looking Barbarian Kings shook up the centre as well. Along with a market that was spread out over the whole historic centre and lunch, the parade kept us busy until the actual Roman Games started at 15h30.
Les Grands Jeux Romains
Another tip: it is smart to be well prepared for the spectacle in the arena, as it lasts 2.5 hours. As the weather in May can be unpredictable, from shadeless sunshine to chilly wind, it is not a luxury to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat or cap and a light vest or jacket. A small pillow for your bum and/or back might make sitting more comfortable as well. Also, think about bringing some money for refreshments (water, soda and crisps), as you cannot bring your own drinks into the arena. And then: let the games begin!
It is quite impressive to watch these Roman Games inside the arenas, just like the inhabitants of Nîmes did over 2,000 years ago. Les Grands Jeux Romains is, in fact, one of the biggest historical re-enactment of ancient history in Europe. To bring the event to life, combat techniques and costumes are as accurate as possible, and historians and archaeology enthusiasts work closely with the re-enactors. The attention to detail shows, as we were treated to a great spectacle, including the grand entrance of Emperor Hadrian, chariot racing, and the war between General Marius and King of the Barbarian Teutobod. It was hard for the kids to admit, but even they thought it was worth getting out of bed for.