If you have come to the south to seek out Roman treasures, you need look no farther than Nîmes (pronounced neem), for the Arènes and Maison Carrée are among Continental Europe's best-preserved antiquities. But if you have come to seek out a more modern mythology—a lazy, graceful Provence—give Nîmes a wide berth: it's a feisty town in transition. Its medieval Old Town has none of the gentrified grace of those in Arles or St-Rémy. Yet its rumpled and rebellious ways trace directly back to its Roman incarnation, when its population swelled with soldiers, arrogant and newly victorious after their conquest of Egypt in 31 BC. A 24,000-seat coliseum, a thriving forum with a magnificent temple patterned after Rome's temple of Apollo, and a public water network fed by the Pont du Gard attest to its classical prosperity.
Nîmes has opted against becoming a lazy, atmospheric Provençal market town and has invested in progressive modern architecture. Smack-dab across from the Maison Carrée stands the city's contemporary answer to it, the modern-art museum dubbed the Carrée d'Art (Art Square) after its ruthlessly modernist four-square form—a pillared, symmetrical glass reflection of its ancient twin. Other investments in contemporary art and architecture confirm Nîmes's commitment to modern ways. If you want to see everything—or a lot of things—in Nîmes, the Visite Ensemble ticket is a good value: it costs a mere €11.70, is valid for three days, and can be purchased at most local monuments and sites.