on January 17, 2007
Historically, southern France is a fascinating place. It has 800-year old ruins of the feudal castles of the middle ages, but it also contains plenty of ancient ruins as well. This part of Europe was the frontier of the Roman Empire. Early years of the Roman Republic were dominated by consolidation of power in Italy but by the 2nd century B.C., that power spread into Gaul, as the modern France was then called. Over the next 400 years this area was under the rule of the Empire, usually providing much needed land for the veterans of the Roman legions. For that reason, this area is filled with many important Roman buildings and Pont du Gard is one of the most impressive structures of them all.Pont du Gard, which simply means "the Bridge over the River Gard," is the largest of the remaining Roman aqueducts. It was finished around 19 BC, under the supervision of none other than Marcus Agrippa, Augustus' son-in-law. The current remains are only a small part of a 30 mile-long aqueduct that connected a fresh water spring to the Roman city of Nimes. Please ponder that for a moment. Over two thousand years ago, Roman engineers built an enormous stone structure to supply 44 million gallons of fresh water a day to one of their provincial cities. We have all much to learn to truly understand the state of technology and human affairs in the ancient times. We may have WiFi Internet, but our masonry is not as good. In the mid 1990s a powerful flood ravaged this area, destroying the modern bridge built to span the river. Pont du Gard only suffered minimal damage in that affair.Subsequent history of Pont du Gard is equally interesting. The fall of the Roman Empire disrupted maintenance and we know that by 9th century it became completely unusable. But it continued to inspire and awe the local villagers of the Dark Ages, who nonetheless helped themselves to all the stone they could. The aqueduct was dismantled, leaving only the Pont du Gard itself, most likely because no peasant could possibly steal a block of stone bigger than his house. As the local economies resurrected themselves in the Middle Ages, the remains of the aqueduct were used as a conventional bridge. By 18th century, the structure became a very big tourist attraction and to this day you can see inscriptions of two hundred-year-old hearts and monograms of the men smitten with love for their sweethearts. It was very interesting to imagine not only the builders of this magnificent structure, but also think of all the generations of visitors that have been there to see it since the time before Christ.
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