The Roman city of Cemenelum was founded in the 1st century AD as a staging post for Roman troops in the Alpes Maritime region and it later became the regional capital. Favorably located, Cemenelum was chosen as the principal seat of the province of Alpes Maritimae by Augustus in 14 BC. Later, the Romans settled further inland, on the opposite side of the river Paillon. Remains of the town on the Hill of Cimiez date to the 3rd century AD.
The Amphitheater at the northern end of the site was originally built of wood and seated only 500-600. It was later rebuilt in stone during the Severan dynasty (AD 193-217) with its capacity expanded to 5000 persons. The vaulted remains at Nice may be compared to other small amphitheaters in garrison towns in the Roman Empire. Seating in the amphitheater reflected class distinctions between officers and enlisted men, with the structure at Nice-Cimiez divided into two sections reached by separate entrances.
The amphitheatre is not as big or as well-preserved as those found in Arles or Nimes, but along with the Roman baths and arena, visitors can gain a sense of wonder into Roman life by paying a visit to the archaeological museum (Musée Archéologique de Nice-Cimiez) on Avenue des Arènes.
The Roman baths complex is the largest known in Gaul.
Built around AD 90 to entertain the legionaries stationed at the fort of Caerleon (Isca), the impressive amphitheatre was the Roman equivalent of today’s multiplex cinema. Wooden benches provided seating for up to 6,000 spectators, who would gather to watch bloodthirsty displays featuring gladiatorial combat and exotic wild animals.
Long after the Romans left, the amphitheatre took on a new life in Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the somewhat imaginative 12th-century scholar, wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Arthur was crowned in Caerleon and that the ruined amphitheatre was actually the remains of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Today it is the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain.