The arena of Cemelenum



Cemelenum is an ancient Roman city located next door to the Matisse Museum, at the edge of Nice in Cimiez.

The first monument you see before you even enter the museum is the arena.

As Roman arenas go, this one was small as it ‘only’ had a capacity of about 5,000 spectators!

But it had all the same parts and the same functions as the ‘standard size’ arenas of the time.

In other word it produced gladiator fights, wild animal hunts, tortures, executions and games!

Having a stroll through the vestiges of the arena is in fact a great introduction to the museum and the rest of excavations.

Cemelenum – Archaeological Museum of Nice


Roman amphorae

The archaeological museum of Nice definitely displayed a lot of pottery shards.

However, I found these beautiful amphorae more photo-worthy than the bits and pieces.

They were used since Neolithic times in order to transport a variety of liquid but also dry commodities.

These were probably used for wine!

The oldest relics in the museum date from around 1100 BCE.

The area Cemelenum-Cimiez-Nice was then inhabited by late Bronze Age peoples.

The Greek and later, Roman settlers, however, left the most beautiful artifacts for us to discover.


Antonia Augusta

My personal favorite is a larger-than-life marble sculpture of Antonia Augusta that dates from the 1st century CE.

She left quite a legacy.

She was indeed the daughter of Mark Anthony, the mother of Claudius, the grandmother of Caligula and the great-grandmother of Nero!

I was in hog heaven when I visited the archaeological site next door to the Matisse museum.

I love old rock and pottery shards just as much as I love old art.

The museum and the site are free.

And…they actually encourage you to take photos here.

“You can use the flash if you wish” said the nice woman at the entry.

So, I did!

Life in antic Cemelenum

Passing through the rear door of the Musée d’Archéologie de Nice-Cimiez you are transported back over 2000 years to the ancient Roman city of Cemelenum.



Emperor Augustus founded it in 14 BCE.

This place on the hill, which overlooks what is now Nice, started out life as a military garrison.

The Roman soldiers billeted in Cemelenum helped protect the Via Julia Augusta.

This road connected Rome with its province and linked it to other Roman roads in Arles.

At one time Cemelenum had as many as 10,000 inhabitants!

It is also thought that at least 3 cohorts (1000-1500 men) of Roman soldiers were garrisoned here.

Countless ruins and artifacts are found all over the neighborhoods in Cimiez.

However, the arena and the baths are all that has been excavated and studied in detail here so far.


Northern baths

This site actually contains the remains of three separate sets of baths.

Each bath was composed of 3-4 rooms of varying heat.

The walls were made of stone with marble floors and seating areas.

The many fragments of glass found around the walls show that the bath buildings evidently held several windows.

Typically, a bather entered the warmer rooms first.

He started by the Tepidarium (warm room), then the Laconicum (a round room of intense dry heat) and the Caldarium (hot room).

The Northern Baths also had a pool of warm water for swimming (natatio), latrines and a garden.


Western baths

The Western Baths also contained a swimming pool and garden.

After swimming, the final bath was a cold one in the Frigidarium.

Each bath also had an area for exercising.

With their genius for controlling and using water, the Romans built a series of aqueducts and drainage systems in order to bring water to the site of the baths.

An elaborate network of pipes circulated water through the bathing pools, flushed the latrines and then carried it all away.

Not only was the water heated for each bath, but the floors and rooms were also heated by an underfloor system of ducts called the hypocaust.


Water drainage

Heated air and smoke from wood fires in the furnace room circulated freely through these ducts warming the marble floors.

The ducts also kept annoying smoke out of the rooms, funneling it up flues in the walls that warmed them before leaving the building via the roof.

Warmest rooms were located closest to the furnace room; cold rooms farther away.

Bathing was an important part of daily Roman life.

It was both a hygienic practice, but also a social one, as bathers relaxed and visited together.

Nothing I read explained whether the baths excavated here were for everyone or just the Roman elite?!

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More photos of Cemelenum

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  • Cemelenum-Nice-Cimiez-archaeological-museum-arenas
  • Cemelenum-Nice-archaeological-museum-bronze-mask
  • Cemelenum-archaeological-museum-Nice-bronze-figures

Coordinates for Cemelenum: Lat 43.719309 – Long 7.275125

Credits: Photos and text Cemelenum are ©melangedmagic – Edited by and for TravelFranceOnline