Monday, June 1, 2015

Pont du Gard France: A World Heritage Site

I am definitely more of a social history person, than a natural history one.  I am such a voyeur of people and the way they live,  Perhaps that's why I'm into blogging.  The genius of humans continues to inspire and amaze me.

Pont du Gard, located in the south of France, is one such wonder that absolutely fascinated me.  It is part of the Nimes aqueduct. The Romans built it in just 5 years, almost 2000 years ago. It was designed to capture the water from the spring in the city of Uzes to water the fountains, businesses, houses and Roman baths of Nimes. In a back handed way the aqueduct may have played some part in the development of denim, which is a French fabric originally developed in Nimes ie. de Nimes = denim. The fabric was died with indigo, which would have required lots of water.

Standing on top of the aqueduct
The aqueduct runs for 50km  between the two cities and is a brilliant example of Roman engineering, using gravity to transport water over large distances to assist in increasing the living standards of its citizens.  The aqueduct has a gradient of 17m across the entire aqueduct and a fall of just 2.5cm across the span of  Pont du Gard. At 50m, it is the highest aqueduct bridge in the world.  This combined with it's length of 360m, makes it the greatest bridge built in classical times.  Thus, it was added to the World Heritage List in 1985.

The entire aqueduct fell into disrepair at the fall of the Roman empire, as a result of constant invasions in the area for many centuries.  It is said that once the Romans adopted Christianity as their religion, their kinder, tamer community values and culture, left it open to invasion and ultimately the fall of the Empire.  I was told that by some Italians, who we met over in France.

The main reason Pont du Gard has survived at all, is that after it ceased to transport water, a road bridge was added to the structure and various feudal lords and bishops were granted rights by the king of France to levy a toll over the bridge, in return for financing its upkeep.  I find it awe inspiring to think of all the ancient hands and minds who have touched Pont du Gard in its varying stages of construction, use and vandalism.

In addition to loads of graffiti from the 19th century, there is plenty from Roman times as well.  There are builders who carved their names into the rocks next to hammers, saws, chisels, picks and mallets, so the historians can name some of those Romans who worked on the bridge.

This olive tree was transported to France from Spain.  The plaque says it was "born" in the year 908 AD and transplanted with 2 other olive trees to improve the decor of Pont du Gard in 1988 .  The tree is around 1000 years younger then the bridge.

The top level of smaller arches was added later by the Romans to increase the flow of water to Nimes, as the city grew and demand for water increased.

When you stand on the road and look up into he ancient arches, you can still see the holes where the wooden form work was placed during construction.  That kind of thing blows me away.

The road bridge today, which is now closed to cars.

Walk up the stairs to get a fabulous view of the entire complex.

There is also a very comprehensive museum and a cinema showing a totally captivating 15 minute movie called A Bridge Through Time, depicting the entire history of  Pont du Gard and some of the ancient aqueduct, running through the country side.  There is a childrens' interactive centre also in the visitors centre complex, concentrating on archaeology and Roman daily life, where kids can get involved in the exhibits.

There are three restaurants catering for different tastes and budgets.  One can be found in the visitors centre close to the car park and souvenir shop.  The other two, Les Terrasses and Le Vieux Moulin are located by the banks of the river Gardon. and a short walk from the bridge.

The bridge is lit up at night between May and September.

The main reception area near the snack bar and souvenir shop.

We had a truly wonderful day, rubbing shoulders with this fantastic monument and its associated museums and attractions.  If you find yourself in the south of France, I highly recommend this as a fabulous day trip.

For more travel stories in France and elsewhere check this out.

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  1. Amazing. So much history. The Romans were certainly industrious and highly skilled. So good at engineering and design and architecture. I'm glad the pont du gard remains and has been listed as a world heritage site xx

  2. I too love visiting historical places, learning about the history and marvelling at what they were able to create so so long ago. However usually the kids get board along the way, I am really impressed that a place like this has added an interactive centre for the kids - brilliant.

  3. The architecture of this is simply incredible. I love the comparison of the age of the olive tree to the bridge.


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