We’d heard about this construct and despite our lack of planning stumbled upon signs to the site. It was an absolutely stunning sight as we approached and it was hard to think that this was constructed over 2,000 years ago. This aqueduct was built by the Romans to service their prestigious settlement at Nimes (more of that later).
It spans the Gardon River and at 157 feet it was the highest bridge constructed by the Romans and a masterpiece of engineering. It started at the springs at Uzes and water tumbled along its 31-mile channel to the centre of Nimes. It would be a long and difficult job because most of the water channel was underground and dug out of the solid rock but the real artistry is recognised in the aqueduct itself. The limestone construction is three storeys and it’s incredible that these fantastic arches have escaped the ravages of time. The river below has burst its banks many times over the years but the aqueduct has stood firm.
We joined the throngs to walk the length of this mighty bridge and from here the true size of the beast struck home. Walking on the bridge with monolithic arches below, thrusting deeply into the river bed we imagined Roman soldiers pounding their way across here heading from the Roman stronghold to "educate the rest of France into Roman ways." As we looked skyward we speculated what a drenching these same men would have got if the channel above, supported by a further series of majestic arches on thick chunky pillars, had sprung a leak. This was carrying up to 20,000m³ of water a day to Nimes. It was clear that people came here not only to view the spectacular piece of engineering history, it was also a social centre for discussion and meeting up with friends. I guess the original architect would have been happy with that!
Beneath us the gently flowing waters of the River Gardon were in use. The site is a popular play area with the French who love to swim and dive in the waters of the river and although it was busy when we were there the cacophony of youngsters enjoying themselves did not seem out of place with this ancient monument.
Around the bridge the development of a modern visitors centre, le portal, provides a variety of restaurants, an auditorium (in a disused quarry), and visitors "promenades." Vineyards populate the slopes over the river valley and on the "plains" nearer to the water’s edge are signs of the regions earlier, and still prospering farming heritage, the olive tree. An ancient, wizened tree, still bearing fruit, stands proudly where must have been for centuries.
We found this to be a fascinating visit—ideal for its historical perspective, its leisure and social opportunities and, of course, the chance to enjoy good food (either in the restaurants or in the picnic areas). What a place to chill out in!