Nîmes is a city in the southwest of France and has a population of 135,000. Its history dates back to 500 B.C. when it was an important outpost of the Roman Empire.

An amphitheater dating from that period is still in use today for bullfights during the summer months. The bulls are raised in the nearby Camargue, a marshy delta region on the Mediterranean Sea.

For five days every year, during Pentecost, Nîmes is inundated with more than one million visitors. The "corrida" (bullfight) and ceremonies such as a Mass in the Cathedral St. Castor block vehicle traffic in the narrow streets dating from medieval times. The entire city becomes one large party scene.

Bullfights in France seem at odds with the usual image of that country, but Nîmes has always been a cosmopolitan city. Historically a stopover point on the Rhine-Rhône axis, it played a major economic role between Spain and Italy. A word derived from the name of the city illustrates the role of Nîmes as an important center of trade.

The word "denim" was derived from "de Nîmes". In the 19th century, workmen traditionally wore durable serge overalls in a particular shade of blue. The overalls were know as "bleu de travail" (work blues), and the indigo used in producing the dye came from the Ardeche, (a mountainous area slightly northeast of Nîmes and bordering on the Rhône valley). Nîmes was the center for fabric dyes and that color was known as "bleu de Nîmes" (blue from Nîmes). Eventually, the word "bleu" was dropped from the phrase and "de Nîmes" became corrupted to "denim".

Today Nîmes is a medical and educational center for the area, the seat of various government offices, and the pivotal point of a vast tourist industry in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.


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