Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Le Pont du Gard

One of the most facinating sights in all of France has to be Le Pont du Gard. Nancy and I saw it in 2001 when we were on a trip that included Italy, France and Ireland. We stated in a little town in Provence, St. Remy, (where Van Gogh spent time in an asylum) and made a short day trip to see it. It would be a much longer trip from Leran, however, it would be doable in a long day. For your reading and viewing pleasure I have stolen some pictures and a description and history of the aqueduct.

The Pont du Gard aqueduct is one really amazing masterpiece of Roman Architecture and was built shortly before the Christian era to allow the aqueduct of Nimes (which is almost 50 km long) to cross the Gard river. The Roman architects and hydraulic engineers who designed this bridge, which stands almost 50 m high and is on three levels, the longest measuring 275 m, created a technical as well as an artistic masterpiece.

Designed to carry the water across the small Gardon river valley, it was part of a nearly 50 km (31 mi) aqueduct that brought water from springs near Uzes to the Roman city of Nemausus (Nimes). The full aqueduct had a gradient of 34 cm/km (1/3000), descending only 17 m vertically in its entire length and delivering 20,000 cubic meters (44 million gallons) of water daily.

It was constructed entirely without the use of mortar. The aqueduct’s stones, some of which weigh up to 6 tons, are held together with iron clamps. The masonry was lifted into place by block and tackle with a massive human-powered treadmill providing the power for the winch. A complex scaffold was erected to support the aqueduct as it was being built. The face of the aqueduct still bears the mark of its construction, in the form of protruding scaffolding supports and ridges on the piers which supported the semicircular wooden frames on which the arches were constructed. It is believed to have taken about three years to build, employing between 800 and 1,000 workers.

From the 4th century onwards, its maintenance was neglected, and deposits filled up to two thirds of the conduit space. By the 9th century, it became unusable, and the people of the area started using its stones for their own purposes. However, the majority of the Pont du Gard remains remarkably intact. From the Middle Ages to the 18th century, the aqueduct was used as a conventional bridge to facilitate foot traffic across the river. The pillars of the second level were reduced in width to make more room for the traffic, but this jeopardized the stability of the structure. In 1702 the pillars were restored to their original width in order to safeguard the aqueduct. In 1743, a new bridge was built next to the arches of the lower level, so that the road traffic could cross on a purpose-built bridge. The aqueduct was restored in the 18th century, by which time it had become a major tourist sight, and was restored again in the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-19th century. The outstanding quality of the bridge’s masonry led to it becoming an obligatory stop for French journeymen masons on their traditional tour around the country, many of whom have left their names on the stonework. Markings left by the original builders can also be seen, indicating the positions in which the dressed stones were to be placed: for instance, FRS II (standing for frons sinistra II, or “front left 2″).


Anonymous said...

Human beings are capable of such art and beauty even to accomplish practical matters such as providing water. Why can't we express ourselves more in this manner and less in the cruelty and warfare and depravity we see daily?

I'm afraid the beauty of the aquaduct has put Luke into a "philosophical" mood. Thanks for sharing the view and the history with me. I am deeply appreciative.

Anonymous said...

In 1972 Ron & I and our girls walked along the aquaduct...very exciting. Judy

Anonymous said...

Judy et al, we also walked across the top of the viaduct, we started out in the channel for the water which was quite small because of the calcification from the water that ran through it all those years. We were able to pop up through openings and get to the very top, scary, Darrell could barely peek out he was so uncomfortable with the height. We had a picnic in the river bed before we went up. That was 1986, our last visit in 2006 found the site very beautifully developed and alas, no walking across the top anymore. Leslie

Anonymous said...

"No walking across the top anymore" makes me remember another such encounter although it was in England. We have photos of all of our family roaming among the stones at StoneHenge and you sure can't do that anymore. Also photos of Lisa (our Youngest..3 at the time) sticking out her tongue on the steps of the Parthenon! Oh well, now our biggest trip is to ST. Louis to visit Maren and family. Judy

Anonymous said...

I'm glad we did those things when we could....Leslie