Entertainment and culture meet at the “Pont du Gard” – Meanderings through France
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Located in southern France the “Pont du Gard” is the highest aqueduct in Europe built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. When visiting Avignon, Nimes or Uzès it will only take you a half hour drive to get to this impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site. All summer long many events will make your visit even more enjoyable and you can spend a full day there admiring the bridge, swimming in the river, having a picnic or dancing to music played by live bands.
A little history
In order to get enough water to fulfil the needs of the growing population of Nemausus, present Nimes, the Romans built a 50km canal from a spring close to Uzès to the complex water distribution system of running water for its inhabitants. It took them 15 years to complete this masterpiece and only 5 years to build the Pont du Gard. A true feat if you think of the technical means of the time! 26,000 cubic yards of spring water could thus reach Nemausus every day and it went on this way for five centuries. Carts used to go on the Pont du Gard’s first level to cross over the River Gardon and the car and truck traffic only stopped after World War 2.
The bridge is 48m high and 490m long. Made of 3 bridges built one on top of the other the aqueduct crosses the river with 6 big arches on the first level, 11 medium size ones on the second level and 35 smaller ones for the top level where the water canal was. Its elegant silhouette glistens against the blue sky and is reflected in the water while crying swifts fly under the arches, an impressive and beautiful view.
Discovering the site
Since 1998 a large project to protect the site was started. In order to protect the bridge and the wild area surrounding it, new access roads were built and the car parks were enlarged and moved further from the site. Today after parking your car you have to walk along a lovely path going through the garrigue to slowly discover the 3 levels aqueduct, the last one of its kind that stands the test of time. Spanning over the river and its wide banks, its yellow stones shining in the sun it’s a really impressive view and you’ll feel dwarfed by its mass. You have the opportunity to walk up and down stream to see it from different angles and lights or to have a drink or a picnic in a quiet bucolic atmosphere.
On your way to or from the bridge don’t miss to pay a visit to the museum, if only to get advantage of the air conditioning on a hot summer day! Scale reproductions, models, experiments, artefacts, maps, image shows, multi-screen displays, films invite you to a lively discovery of the bridge’s construction and of the remarkable technical and architectural abilities of the builders both the Romans and the Gallic river civilisation. A documentary movie is shown in a 300 seats cinema providing interesting clues to understand the building process.
Summertime at the Pont du Gard
Going to the Pont du Gard is not only watching it, take a few pictures and go. All summer long many events invite you to spend more time here. Wooden tables and benches await you for lunch or diner and a big beach will give you the opportunity to cool down in the chilly waters of the Gardon River and to sunbath.
In July and August you can take part in guided tours of the aqueduct and have the rare possibility to climb up the bridge and get to the third level to see the Roman waterworks. The view from the top is absolutely spectacular!
Every day after sunset the bridge is illuminated and from July 17 to August 16 a sound and light show livens up the bridge. An entertaining evening under the stars to enjoy from the banks or from the restaurant called “Les Terrasses” where you can have a typical Provencal meal. Every Friday night is time to party: live bands play jazz, tango, salsa or pop music, and wake up the bridge’s old stones.
Since 1997 the International Bat Night is a special event in 30 countries to discover this unrecognized secret animal often feared for no good reasons. This night is a special one at the Pont du Gard and this year on August the 29th bat lovers and the simply curious will discover the local species called Molosse de Cestoni one of the biggest European bat through a movie and a guided tour of the area.
The Pont du Gard is a unique Roman remnant in France and in Europe drawing more than one million visitors each year making it the most popular antic monument in France. An authentic must-see!
Get more information at: www.pontdugard.fr
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny