1. Architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc has designed a building that is light and fluid.

A 'glass toga' in Nîmes

The brand new, ultramodern Musée de la Romanité in Nîmes is a striking monument to the glory of Nemausus and a fitting 21st-century showcase for its rich heritage.

Nîmes was built on the site of an earlier oppidum (fortified Iron Age town) surrounded by a wall constructed during the 3rd and 2nd centruies BC. This Celtic centre became a Roman colony by 28 BC and was made capital of the province of Gallia Narbonensis in the reign of Augustus (27 BC–AD 14).

The most famous of Nîmes' ancient monuments are: the Tour Magne (the high point of the town, a dry-stone
Celtic tower built into the 3rd–2nd century BC wall, was incorporated into the masonry of the Roman Tour Magne); the Roman amphitheatre (an impressive, double-tiered arena, dating from circa AD 70, which is still used for concerts and bullfights); and the Maison Carrée, a temple of white limestone completed circa 12 BC. Other evidence of Roman rule is still being excavated on a regular basis and an abundance of artefacts have been collected through the centuries.

2. The glass that encases the new museum seems to flow like the folds of a Roman toga.

The new Musée de la Romanité shows both aspects of Nîmes' heritage, since it offers a panoramic view of the city and its architectural remains from the roof terrace, and provides an exceptional 9,200-sqm setting for the display of some 5000 artefacts selected from the museum's collection of 25,000.

The building was designed by the French-Brazilian architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc as 'a contemporary response to the Roman amphitheatre'.

As a bridge between the 21 centuries of history separating the two buildings, she sought to 'express the differences between the two architectures through dialogue based on their complementarity. On one side
a round volume encircled with the verticals of the Roman stone arches and firmly anchored to the ground, and on the other a large square volume in levitation and entirely draped in a folded glass toga.'

The 'glass toga' refers to the museum façade, made of 7000 strips of serigraphed glass that undulates like the folds of a toga and reflects its surroundings. An inner street follows the route of the Roman ramparts and forms a visual link between the square in front of the amphitheatre and an archaeological garden.

3. The building contrasts and reflects the stone of the monumental Roman arena that it faces.

On the museum's transparent ground floor, a fragment of the propylaeum, or gateway, of the Celtic sanctuary of the healing spring of Nemausus forms the centrepiece of a spectacular reconstruction of this sacred site dating back to the founding of the pre-Roman city.

The Iron Age is represented by a reconstruction of the everyday life of the Volcae Arecomici people, the Celtic tribe who founded the settlement, and who surrendered to the Romans in 121 BC. The visitor then follows the milestones of the Via Domitia from Rome to Narbonne, and the Roman city is brought to life through an immersive experience, showing objects from the permanent collections in a lively manner.

The medieval section also highlights the Roman influence in architectural fragments and, finally, the romanitas heritage (the spirit and ideals of ancient Rome) is presented in an interactive section combined with photographs and films.

The opening show in the temporary exhibition area is entitled Gladiators, heroes of the Colosseum and runs until
24 September 2018.

• Musée de la Romanité, Nîmes
Nicole Benazeth