A visit to Nîmes in the 16th century

Nismes, comme elle est à présent (1559/1560) by Jean Poldo d'AlbenasBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Discours historial de l’antique et illustre cité de Nismes (The historical account of the ancient and illustrious city of Nîmes) by Jean Poldo d'Albenas, published in Lyon in 1559, is the earliest known book dedicated to the history of Nîmes. It provides an outstanding view of the city at that time.

L'amphithéâtre, dict les Arènes (1559/1560) by Jean Poldo d'AlbenasBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

A pioneer in the study of national antiquities, Poldo d'Albenas's also made precise surveys of the city's Roman monuments, in this case the amphitheater.

Nemausus, Nismes, Civitas Narbonensis Galliae vetustissima (1572/1617) by Georg Braun and Frans HogenbergBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Poldo d'Albenas's view of Nîmes was copied several times, notably in Cologne by Braun and Hogenberg in their encyclopedia of the world's cities—Civitates orbis terrarum (Cities of the World) .  The library of Nîmes keeps a color copy.

Although located about 12 miles (20 m) from Nîmes as the crow flies, the Pont du Gard is depicted by the draftsman. The Pont du Gard belonged to an aqueduct that supplied the ancient city with water.

The ancient rampart, linked to the Magne Tower, an ancient Gallic tower transformed by the Romans, is still clearly visible.

The city is enclosed in a smaller rampart, built from 1356. It comprises seven gates, a dozen towers, and moats filled with water. Its outline corresponds to that of the current boulevards that encircle the Écusson, the city's old town.

The Roman gate, known as Porte Auguste, was incorporated into the royal castle, which was built by Charles VI in 1391.

On the neighboring hills, windmills were used to grind cereals and olives.

Several watermills were active on the Agau stream, which flowed from the Fontaine spring. The Roman remains of this district had not yet been rediscovered—the ancient temple of Diana was once occupied by a women's monastery.

In the wake of the religious reform of the 13th century, a belt of convents developed around the city, including the Cordeliers or Franciscans.

Suburbs grew around these monasteries, the most important of which was Prêcheurs, located near the Dominican convent of the Jacobins in the current Gambetta district.

Beyond lay the priory of Saint-Baudile (or Bausile), which owed its name to the saint who, according to the legend, evangelized Nîmes. It was a very important place of pilgrimage in the early Middle Ages.

Inside the ramparts, Roman monuments are depicted: the Maison Carrée, which hadn't yet been identified as an Augustan temple. Poldo believed it to be a capitol, the seat of civic authority.

Although not visible on the drawing, the arenas were inhabited. Nearby stood one of the towers of the medieval rampart: Tour Vinatière,  which owed its name to a tax on wine that was served in taverns, which was intended to help with the maintenance of the wall.

Among the buildings inside the city walls, the cathedral and the 15th century belfry, which was rebuilt in the 18th century, and became the present-day Tour de l'Horloge (Clock Tower), can be seen.

A column topped by a salamander—the emblem of King Francois I—was erected to mark the king's visit in 1533. It gave its name to today's Place de la Salamandre.

This 16th century map therefore provides us with many important clues that help us understand the present-day city.

Vue aérienne de Nîmes (1985/1992) by Marcel ChevretBibliothèque Carré d'Art Nimes

Credits: Story

Realization: Ville de Nîmes - Bibliothèque Carré d'Art
Iconography:  © Ville de Nîmes - Bibliothèque Carré d'Art   
Aerial photography: Municipal Archives (photo Marcel Chevret)

Credits: All media
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