Pont du Gard is an imposing viaduct built by the Romans. Frankly, at over 2000 years old it’s amazing that it is still standing. The engineering behind it is even more astonishing. We’d heard that it was pretty cool from Hokie over at The Swiss Watch Blog. When Magglio, the Luger and Sneaky Pete visited, we made a trip to check it out.
In 19 B.C., Roman emperor, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (Augustus’ son-in-law) built it. The Pont du Gard carried water across the Gard river valley, 25 km (15.5 miles) west of Avignon.
It wasn’t an isolated piece of infrastructure. It was part of a larger nearly 50 km (31 mi) aqueduct. The system brought water from springs near Uzès to Nîmes (known in Roman times as Nemausus) with a slight grade. Its 34 cm/km (1/3000) grade its entire 50 km. Walking around, you can see other parts of this system.
It took between 800 and 1000 men about three years to build. When it was completed, it transported 20,000 cubic meters (44 million gallons) of water daily. Constructed without the use of mortar (bearing masonry), its stones are held together by iron clamps. Some of the stones weigh 6 tons. They were moved into place using a complex system winch system. You can still see the remains of the supports for the complex scaffolding.
As the Roman Empire declined, they began to worry more about the barbarians at the gates than maintenance of their infrastructure. Deposits filled up a majority of the channel space. It was unusable by the 9th century. Once it wasn’t useful for delivering water, people took what they could from it, taking stones for other purposes. It was also used as a footbridge across the river.
In the 18th century, the aqueduct was restored. Even by this time, it was tourist attraction. Additional restorations were done under the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-19th century. The workers carved their names in the stonework. These aren’t the only graffiti. The original Roman workers also carved their names. French masons over the years have also left their markings. It looks like way more work than a can of spray paint, but clearly lasts much longer. I am not suggesting tagging monuments, only noting that graffiti has been around since before the birth of Christ and impressed that we can still see it.
The Pont du Gard is an amazing piece of engineering and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is so impressive that it is easy to overlook its beautiful surroundings. Enjoy the three-tiered series of stone arches, just don’t forget to enjoy the rest of the view. It is a great place to take a dip, picnic or fly a kite.