Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard is the main section of a 50 km (30 miles) long aqueduct built during the first century AD in southern France. The Romans built the aqueduct to bring water from a spring in Uzes to the Roman colony of Nimes. Because the spring and Nimes were on opposite sides of the Gardon River, they constructed an aqueduct bridge to carry the water across the river to Nimes, where it was used for thermal baths, fountains, pools and running water for the houses.
Excavations suggest that construction of Pont du Gard took place between the years 40-60. Archaeologists believe that the aqueduct took approximately 15 years to build and required as many as 1000 laborers to complete the construction. The Pont du Gard required an estimated 50,400 tons of limestone, with some of the blocks weighing up to six tons. Builders cut the blocks so precisely that they fit together without the need for mortar in most sections. Numbers and inscriptions used by the builders are still visible on some of the stones.
The structure consists of three levels of arches standing 49 meters (160 feet) above the Gardon River. When it was completed, the aqueduct carried an estimated 200,000 cubic-meters of water to the city of Nimes each day. Archaeologists estimate that it continued to be used until the sixth century or perhaps longer. Lack of maintenance after the fourth century made it more difficult for water to flow freely, and eventually the flow stopped.
Although the Pont du Gard was no longer used as an aqueduct, it was and still is an important tourist attraction. The bridge has a long association with French monarchs such as King Charles IX of France, Louis XIV and even Napoleon III, who all wished to identify with this symbol of Roman power. It was also a stop for French journeymen masons, many who left their name on the bridge’s stonework. For centuries, lords and bishops used the Pont du Gard as a toll bridge in exchange for maintaining the structure.
In 1743, a road bridge was added next to the Pont du Gard, but in 1996 the bridge was closed to all but pedestrian traffic to ease congestion. In addition, a new visitor center, with virtual reconstructions, models, multimedia screens and realistic sounds, was built in order to give visitors a historical context for the bridge.
For those who enjoy cycling, many cycling routes in the area lead to the Pont du Gard. There are nearby parking areas to unload bikes if necessary. In addition, several hiking routes lead to the bridge, making it a destination for both bikers and hikers.
The Pont du Gard is an enjoyable site for everyone, especially those whose interests lie with art, history or science. With the bridge preserved as well as it is, a walk across it transports one back in time to the era when the Romans first created this artistic as well as technical masterpiece.