The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River in Vers-Pont-du-Gard near Remoulins, in the Gard département of southern France. It is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50 km-long (31 mi) structure built by the Romans to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes).
Because the terrain between the two points is hilly, the aqueduct – built mostly underground – took a long, winding route that crossed the gorge of the Gardon, requiring the construction of an aqueduct bridge. Built in the 1st century AD, the Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is the best preserved after the Aqueduct of Segovia. It was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.
The bridge has three tiers of arches, standing 48.8 m (160 ft) high. The whole aqueduct descends in height by only 17 m (56 ft) over its entire length, while the bridge descends by a mere 2.5 cm (0.98 in) – a gradient of only 1 in 3,000 – which is indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve using only simple technology.
The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 200,000 m3 (44,000,000 imp gal) of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It continued to be used possibly until the 6th century, with some parts used for significantly longer, but lack of maintenance after the 4th century meant that it became increasingly clogged by mineral deposits and debris that eventually choked off the flow of water.
Description of The Bridge
Built on three levels, the Pont is 49 m (161 ft) high above the river at low water and 274 m (899 ft) long. Its width varies from 9 m (30 ft) at the bottom to 3 m (9.8 ft) at the top. The three levels of arches are recessed, with the main piers in line one above another. The span of the arches varies slightly, as each was constructed independently to provide flexibility to protect against subsidence.
The construction of the aqueduct has long been credited to Augustus' son-in-law and aide, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, around the year 19 BC. At the time, he was serving as aedile, the senior magistrate responsible for managing the water supply of Rome and its colonies. Espérandieu, writing in 1926, linked the construction of the aqueduct with Agrippa's visit to Narbonensis in that year. Newer excavations, however, suggest the construction may have taken place between 40 and 60 AD.
The Pont du Gard was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 on the criteria of "Human creative genius; testimony to cultural tradition; significance to human history". The description on the list states: "The hydraulic engineers and ... architects who conceived this bridge created a technical as well as artistic masterpiece."
The Pont du Gard has been a tourist attraction for centuries. 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 (see Compagnons du Tour de France), many of whom have left their names on the stonework.
From the 18th century onwards, particularly after the construction of the new road bridge, it became a famous staging-post for travellers on the Grand Tour and became increasingly renowned as an object of historical importance and French national pride. The bridge has had a long association with French monarchs seeking to associate themselves with a symbol of Roman imperial power. King Charles IX of France visited in 1564 during his Grand Tour of France and was greeted with a grand entertainment laid on by the Duc d'Uzès.
Twelve young girls dressed as nymphs came out of a cave by the riverside near the aqueduct and presented the king with pastry and preserved fruits. A century later, Louis XIV and his court visited the Pont du Gard during a visit to Nîmes in January 1660 shortly after the signature of the Treaty of the Pyrenees.