Back in January, I wrote “Oh! The Places You Will Go!” about the joy of watching our kids see the stuff they learn in books (whether school-related or self-chosen) come to life when we’re traveling. I’m tickled by the wide-eyed moments of realization when they connect the dots and see that so-and-so was an actual person or that real people played, ate, walked, loved, etc, in this actual place. As I wrote last week, our Spring Break road trip was another opportunity to make these magical connections. In particular, our last stop in Nîmes, France, gave us a unique chance to visit the most well-preserved Roman arena in the world.
At this point, both of our children have a heard or read their fair share about this ancient people, their architecture, their legions and of course, their gladiators, even getting to know the different categories of fighters, so it was a treat to visit a site that’s so beautifully preserved. The interior, although much smaller than the Colosseum in Rome, is that much more intact, and the facade is being refurbished back to a glimmering white stone over the next year. And the owners, culturespaces, have done a good job of intertwining historical characters and events into the venue with informative signs and a dramatic audio tour.
Originally, we had hoped to visit the arena during their annual reenactment of The Great Roman Games, which looks incredible. Check out the trailer announcing this year’s production, The Accession of Augustus. Thousands of people will be involved in meticulously acting out the historic battle that took place in Greece to bring Augustus to power after the assassination of Caesar, all within the historic arena, with present day spectators looking on from the same seats that the townspeople used to watch day-long events in 100 AD! It’s happening in just a few weeks, May 17-18 this year, if you’re on this side of the Atlantic.
Our tour last week probably can’t compare to witnessing someone’s rise to Emperor, but still, we managed to get a little transported back in time. For the kids, the best part was visiting the gladiators chambers on the ground floor where the combatants would have gotten ready for battle before walking out into the sand covered floor of the amphitheater. The gladiators’ wardrobe, metal and leather armor, swords, daggers, tritons, rope nets and the like, hang from wooden pegs on the walls as if they’ve just left a moment ago, carrying whatever was required to face wild animals, condemned criminals or each other.
After a few hours our learning about all the magnificent and terrible things that went down in Roman arenas, we stepped back out into the modern and very multicultural streets of Nîmes for a very civilized dinner at Bistrot Raoul. Our favorite breakfast of tartines and pain au chocolate the next morning were the perfect finale to our road trip. Can’t wait to hang a right at the top of the boot next time, and take our adventures into a whole other world and history.