It was getting later in the afternoon when we left Nîmes for the Pont du Gard (the bridge over the Gard river) thinking we’d be there very quickly. But, being truly committed to Baroness Tours style, we took the scenic route!
We arrived just before closing time to find this amazing tourist setup that charged $15 just to park!! Well, for us it was just to park, because everything was closing and we couldn’t see any of the ‘special exhibits’ or the long list of things we were supposedly eligible for, so we happily went off to see the real deal itself.
I can’t get over what the Romans achieved in the 1st century that is still all over the place! This is just a remnant of the 50km long aqueduct running between Uzès and Nîmes. It is estimated that it formerly carried 200 million litres of water a day across country down to the city on the plain.
At this site the remnant is nearly 50 metres high, the tallest of all the aqueducts built, so another World Heritage listed site as one would expect. Over that 50 km, the descent is only about 17 metres – yet another astounding testimony to the skill and precision of the engineers and workmen who built it – not even using mortar or clamps! About 50,400 tons of stone were used, some of them weighting up to 6 tons each – basically moved into position using block and tackle technology. Inside the water carrying chamber, the stone was very highly finished and polished to ensure ease of flow for the water, and it would also reduce sediment and calcification build-up.
We kept thinking of the people who built it because they left marks and symbols on the stones here and there, but the architects, surveyors, and builders are unknown. What an amazing legacy to leave the world.
The aqueduct continued to be used well into the 9th century, but after the fall of the Roman empire and the beginning of the bad old days in the 4th century, when pillage and plunder were much more important than maintenance and preservation, the poor old aqueduct began to get clogged and eventually stopped working in another 500 years or so.
Because the bridge part was also used as a toll bridge to cross the river, this encouraged local lords and bishops to keep that workable. In fact traffic across the bridge wasn’t stopped ‘til 2000. But a lot of stone was looted and pillaged the length of the aqueduct.
The bridge is truly beautiful. The proportions of the arches poised on top of each other, the golden stone rising out of the landscape and striding over the river looks as permanent as the earth itself. The ancient olive trees the glassy river surface flowing quickly underneath, the birds and the vegetation – so evocative in the late afternoon sun when we were there. It made you feel like becoming a tree yourself and putting down roots for a few hundred years just to stay nearby…
Heather and Tina