A former Roman colony which reached its peak two millennia ago under Augustus, the first of the emperors of Rome, Nîmes then called “Colonia Augusta Nemausus” was an important commercial and cultural crossroads, halfway between Rome and Spain.

Twenty centuries later, the white facades embellished with tall columns of the “Maison Carrée” still shine under the southern sun, in a semi-pedestrian zone.

“The Maison Carrée de Nîmes, built at the beginning of the 1st century AD, represents one of the oldest expressions, and among the best preserved, of a Roman temple dedicated to the imperial cult”, underlined in January Roselyne Bachelot, then French Minister of Culture, announcing his candidacy for inclusion on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

The high building “was used throughout its 2,000 years of existence, as a temple dedicated to Augustus, then as a private house, church, convent and even stable, granary and museum. It is this permanent occupation which explains its exceptional state of conservation”, explains Valérie Espin, manager of this site within the private company Edeiss, which recently took over the management, development and commercial exploitation of the ancient heritage of Nîmes.

Closed for renovation for eight months, its “cella”, a large room which housed the statue of the divinity, which has now disappeared, reopened to the public this summer.

“This Maison Carrée is a bit of an icon, we are very attached to it, just like the amphitheater (the arenas), the so-called temple of Diana, the Magne tower, also Roman, the Augustus gate, the France…”, explains Mary Bourgade, deputy mayor in charge of ancient heritage.

– New application to Unesco –

Unlike its neighbor Arles, which also has a Roman amphitheater as well as thermal baths and an ancient theatre, or the Pont du Gard aqueduct, Nîmes missed the mark of recognition by Unesco some forty years ago. ‘years.

In 2018, Nîmes ended up presenting its attractions to the specialized UN agency, hoping for recognition of the exceptional character of all of its Roman sites. But the decision was “deferred”, the experts of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (Icomos) not having appreciated the presence in the immediate vicinity of modern monuments, such as the Museum of Romanity with controversial architecture.

Refocused on the Maison Carrée, a new candidacy for Nîmes will in principle be examined next year, during the 46th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, provided that the diplomatic difficulties linked to the war in Ukraine do not come shake up the schedule.

An expert from Icomos is in any case expected in Nîmes “during the first half of September”, according to Ms. Bourgade, for a three-day visit which could be decisive.

– Shows at the arenas –

Two thousand years after the gladiator fights and a few weeks after sold-out concerts by Stromae or Sting, the arenas, with a capacity of 13,000 seats, should be filled again for a general public historical re-enactment show entitled “Nîmes , City of the Gods”, scheduled from August 8 to 15.

Until October 23, the Musée de la Romanité presents an important exhibition on Etruscan civilization, which occupied the center of Italy before the power of Rome took off.

If it “left only very discreet vestiges, essentially underground necropolises”, the Etruscan civilization also bequeathed to Rome a fruitful heritage, in particular on the religious level, underlines one of the guide-lecturers of the museum, Léa Flori, but also jewelry, frescoes, urns and vases.