A Brief History of Nîmes
Nomadic Celts had settled around an abundant spring in the sixth century BC, calling the place Nemausus (a name eventually shortened to Nîmes) in honor of their water spirit. By the time the Romans colonized the area, about 500 years later, it was already a thriving center of trade. Located on the Via Domitian, the main route road between Italy and Spain, Nîmes eventually became one of the most important cities in Roman Gaul. The Pont du Gard is part of the 50-km/31-mile aqueduct, built in the first century BC, to supplement the original spring that was Nîmes’ main water supply.
From the fifth century onward, the history of Nîmes is one of religious ferment, for by then various heresies including Aryanism and Albigensianism struggled with the power of the church. In the 13th century, the Jews, who had enjoyed the freedom of Nîmes from the seventh century onward, were expelled. And in the 16th century, the city became a Huguenot stronghold and a focus of religious warfare and persecution that lasted until the French Revolution.
In the Middle Ages, the quality and quantity of the Nîmes water supply led to the growth of textile manufacturing, tanning and dyeing – industries that have continued to the present day. At one time, during the 18th century, at least two-thirds of the town’s working population were engaged in silk-making for stockings. Modern Nîmes remains a center for the manufacture of colorful Provençal fabrics, table linens and clothing.
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