Sunday, June 24, 2012

Provence -- Le Pont du Gard

Le Pont du Gard – Roman Bridge & Aqueduct 
We left Avignon for Nîmes in a large tour bus having acquired a driver named Bruno who would remain with us for the remainder of our trip.  One of the stops we made along the way was Pont du Gard. 

First view of Pont du Gard

The Romans built this three tiered bridge and aqueduct beginning in about 19 BC and taking between five and 18 years to complete.  Built of limestone blocks weighing as much as 6 tons that fit together without cement or mortar the design of the bridge has allowed it to survive several violent floods including one in 1958 that submerged the whole of the lower tier.  Pont du Gard is the best-preserved section of the entire aqueduct.  Driving up in the bus we didn’t see the bridge until we got out and started walking.  The first sight of it was breathtaking.  It is so huge and so old.

This large aqueduct supplied millions of gallons water daily to Nîmes from a spring near Uzès about 31 miles away.  For much of that distance (22 miles) the water flowed underground the rest of the way the water flowed through a channel on a wall or in this case the top tier of the bridge.  The water channel was covered with stone slabs.  The channel itself is wide enough for one person to walk inside so that it could be cleaned periodically otherwise it would get clogged with mineral deposits and vegetation.  It is believed that the aqueduct was used to supply water to the city and homes of Nîmes up until the 9th century.  The stones protruding from the columns in between the arches were used to support scaffolding during the construction phase.  The structure is an amazing engineering and stone masonry feat.  Craftsmen who later visited the site would sometimes carve their names and the date into a stone such as is seen below dated 1715.  All the stones fit precisely with instructions still visible on some of them showing which way the stones were to be placed. 

A roadway or walkway across the river was located on the middle tier.  For a time during the Middle Ages tolls were levied on the bridge by local authorities but that might have been a trade off because the lords and bishops who exacted the tolls were responsible for the upkeep.  Today Pont du Gard is an important tourist destination.  Unfortunately, time and erosion are causing the bridge to settle and tilt a very tiny bit each year so it may not survive another 2,000 years.

Middle tier of Pont du Gard

This is a view of the middle tier footbridge.  The people walking at the far end of the bridge look like little ants and give a suggestion as to the size of the bridge.

Graffiti dated 1715

View of the river from the walkway on the Pont du Gard

2000-year old olive tree

There were olive trees still growing nearby that had been planted at the time the bridge was constructed making them a little more than 2,000 years old.  This one certainly was weathered and old looking with its roots grabbing into the ground looking like it was hanging on for dear life.  It is hard to imagine anything living that long, isn’t it?

Sources:  Eyewitness Travel, pp. 130-131

Mrs. Gimlet has also posted about Pont du Gard, see:
And for a short video:

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