The Pont du Gard – a Roman marvel

Whilst Tom and I are currently painting our new house, I spend a lot of my time thinking about last year’s travels in Southern France.  

I’d wager that the Pont Du Gard, in France’s Languedoc region, is the world’s most famous Roman aqueduct and was built as part of larger waterway starting from the river Eure to provide growing Nimes or Nemausus, the Roman colony, with a steady water supply – some 50km away from the source.

The Roman’s bridged the deep Gardon gorge with the Pont du Gard which stretches over 217m length and carried 200,000m3 water some 49m above the riverbed below. In total the entire waterway running just short of Uzès to Nimes descends just 17m in altitude – as the Rough Guide exclaims ‘it’s nothing short of a technical marvel!’

Pont du Gard

It’s believed that nearly 1000 workers took 15 years to construct the Pont. But by the 4th century the lack of maintenance to the aqueduct meant that mineral deposits and debris eventually clogged and choked the flow of water.

Its three levels of arches have been pillaged over the centuries for building materials, suffered an earthquake in 1448, several terrible floods and mudslides as recently as 2000. The aqueduct received a major restoration commissioned Napoleon III, who had quite a thing for Roman antiquities, during the 18th century and was included as UNESCO world heritage site in December 1985.

Pont du Gard

Since the mudslides, the French government has pedestrianized the surrounding area and built a new visitor complex with a really stunning interactive exhibition – it really helps to understand the complexity and importance of the aqueduct. Now, the Pont Du Gard is one of France’s top five tourist attractions with over 1.4 million people visiting each year.

When we visited I insisted that we hung around the Pont to benefit from the light show that illuminates the aqueduct, I didn’t appreciate that these didn’t turn on until it was properly dark.

So we sat at Cuisinier Vigernons, the restaurant on the furthest bank, enjoying our dinner waiting for the lights – it was so worth the wait and you understood how philosopher and writer, Jean Jacques Rousseau, wrote ‘only the Romans could have produced such an effect.’

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