Temples then and now

Considered one of the best preserved and most elegant of the Corinthian temples, this 1st century homage to the Augustan imperial cult was built from local limestone. It has been known as the Maison Carrée since the XVIth century.

The columns of the impressive portico, 17 metres high to the gable, are freestanding, whereas those along the side are half embedded in the walls. Only priests of the cult were allowed in; any major events and sacrifices were done outside, in the large public forum space.

Under the portico you can see the naturalistic acanthus leaves atop each column. Out of the weather, this limestone is immaculate.

Exposed, the stone has not fared so well, but after 2000 years, you’d have to say the damage is only cosmetic and minor; the columns still do their job.

And on the enormously high timber doors, a key escutcheon like no other I will ever see…

Immediately across the square is the 1993 Museum of Modern Art, designed to echo the Maison Carrée… but somehow failing to carry that same sense of grandeur outside.

Inside it succeeds, being all light and space, with a huge atrium. It is the temple to Art, to connect the old and new Nîmes.

Modern paintings of vast size dominate each room.

I realise I should have known that I do not like what I see as the self-consciousness and self-indulgence of many of these periods.

I also realise that every museum or gallery I visit has an appointed guard or watcher in every single room.

Often young people, mostly looking bored, mostly wearing black, checking that I am not about to spray paint or throw tomatoes on a work. 

Except for my sandals squeaking a little on the parquet, the silence is deafening.

How do they spend a whole day like this?