Top 5 historic sites in France – Pont du Gard

Rising majestically from the banks of the river Gardon, the Pont du Gard is the highest Roman aqueduct in the world. It was the most significant section of a 50 kilometre long aqueduct which channeled water from the Eure springs near Uzès to Nîmes, or Nemausus as it was known to the Romans. Built halfway through the first century AD, its three levels reach 49 metres above the river. That it still stands today, almost 2000 years after its construction, is a tribute to its architect and its builders.

The aqueduct is made from soft yellow limestone bricks which were taken from a nearby quarry on the banks of the river and transported by boat to the building site. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of the construction of the bridge, with numbers engraved into stones, points of support for scaffolding, and marks where hoists were used. A large workforce was used, both skilled and unskilled – blacksmiths, carpenters, lime-burners and loggers were a few of the jobs necessary in the construction.

Here are some handy statistics:

Total weight : 50,000 tons

Total volume : 20,000 m3, equal to the solid volume of the Eiffel Tower

Height: 49 m

Length over water: 275 m

Major arch gap : 25 m (one of the largest in the Roman world)

Time taken for water to reach Nîmes: 27 hours

There remains no written evidence as to just who was the architect of this monumental structure. It is largely believed it was the Roman statesman and architect Agrippa, who was the son in law of the first Roman emperor Augustus. Agrippa was referred to as ‘curator perpetuus aquarum’, the person who administered all the aqueducts in Rome, and is known to have come to Nîmes in the year 19 BC to deal with problems with the Gauls (Under Roman rule, France was known as Gaul).

The Roman Empire fell in the year 476, but the Pont du Gard remained as a working aqueduct until around the 6th century. After this its useful location over the river Gardon made it a perfect place for a toll bridge, where a tax from travellers and merchants was collected and given to local lords and bishops.

View of the Pont du Gard, 1883

It has been a place of inspiration and a magnet for tourists for more than a millennium.

Like Stonehenge, it is the monument of a people’s greatness…the utter solitude in which it stands, a rocky valley, with only a few goats browsing

Handbook for Travellers in France, 1852

Today there are not so many goats, and far less solitude, but it is still awe-inspiring to stand on the banks of the Gardon river and wonder at all the changes in history the aqueduct has seen.

The Pont du Gard is open almost every day of the year. There is a wonderful museum with virtual reconstructions, multimedia screens and models to bring you into the Roman era and experience the Nîmes of two thousand years ago. It is located 27 kms from Nîmes, and 21 km from Avignon. There is no shortage of historic places to visit in this region!

I will leave you with the words of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

The resounding impact of my steps as I walk beneath these mighty arches made me think I could almost hear the voices of those who built them. I was lost, like an insect, in its immensity. I felt, though small and insignificant, that something unknown was lifting my soul and I said to myself, ‘Am I not a Roman!’

Useful links

Here is the link to the official Pont du Gard website

If you love Roman ruins, you will love the city of Nîmes. Here is the official website for Nimes tourism.

And you’ll also love Avignon, so make sure you have a look at their website.

Unless stated otherwise, all photos are the property of Jenny and Paul Barndon.

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