Pont du Gard is an iconic Ancient Roman bridge and aqueduct built in first century AD and located near Nimes in France. In fact, it was the tallest bridge ever built by the Romans, rising 160 feet.
Pont du Gard Aqueduct history
Nimes had been a major city of Gaul before 45BC, when it was incorporated in the Roman Empire. As the city’s population grew, exceeding 20,000, the need for water surpassed the available supplies of the Nemausus spring. Thus, from 40AD, over 1,000 workers were engaged in building Pont du Gard in order to transfer water from the Gard River (the Eure) to the city. Upon its completion, it would stay in use until the sixth century, when it was finally abandoned.
Pont du Gard aqueduct remains one of humankind’s great masterpieces. A marvel of Antiquity and a true technical feat, it is also a stupendous site that has regained its unspoiled state since its refurbishment.
Since then, Pont du Gard has undergone a series of restoration projects and is now a spectacular place to visit. In 1985 it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Pont du Gard Aqueduct today
Today guided tours of Pont du Gard take visitors right to the very heart of this iconic structure to see the how such an engineering feat was achieved and how the aqueduct operated. Visitors can also walk the full length of the bridge itself and explore this Roman marvel up close. These tours last approximately 1.5 hours.
There is also a Pont du Gard museum on site that explores the engineering techniques used by the Romans to build the bridge as well as the history of the area in which it is built, which actually stretches back to prehistoric times. Other exhibits found within the museum also focus on the history of Nimes and the surrounding area during the Roman era.
Getting to Pont du Gard Aqueduct
If travelling by car, the way to the Pont du Gard is very well indicated on the A9 motorway from Nîmes to Lyon (take exit 23 at Remoulins) or the N100 from Avignon and on the smaller roads that lead from it to the site. There are two car parks. The road signs will probably direct you to the larger, rive gauche (left bank) one (800 places), near the village of Vers Pont du Gard.
If travelling by train, a brand-new TGV station opened in 2019 called Nîmes-Pont-du-Gard. However, despite the name, it is actually in the small town of Manduel, 15 miles south of the Pont du Gard. Shuttle buses may be available in due course, and it’s within striking distance of a taxi ride.
The Pont du Gard Aqueduct
The Pont du Gard is near Nîmes, Uzés and Avignon, in the heart of a region with a rich historical heritage.
The most visited ancient monument in France, listed a world heritage site by Unesco, the Pont du Gard aqueduct remains one of humankind's great masterpieces. A marvel of Antiquity and a true technical feat, it is also a stupendous site that has regained its unspoiled state since its refurbishment.
48 metres high, it has three vertical rows of arches: 6 on the lowest level, 11 on the second level and 35 on the third and top level. Its upper part reaches a length of 273 metres (originally 360 metres when there were twelve extra arches). It served as an aqueduct until the 6th century before becoming a tollgate in the Middle Ages and finally a road bridge from the 18th to 20th century.
The operation Grand Site, started in 2000, gave it back its original setting, without any traffic or the constructions that had proliferated in the surrounding areas.
The admissions ticket to the site also allows entry to the facilities situated on the two banks of the Gardon:
- the Museum of the Pont du Gard, which retraces, through an exhibition accessible to the entire public, the history of the aqueduct's construction and its contribution to the way of life during the Roman Era
- a film presenting the site
- an outdoor exhibition about human occupation here since 2000 years ago
- Ludo, an entertaining and educational space for children
- temporary artistic and scientific exhibitions
- a restaurant-cafeteria on both sides of the river
Kayak outing at the foot of the Pont du Gard
Visit the top floor of the Pont du Gard
Esplanade and terrace of the site of the Pont du Gard
The remains of the Pont du Gard
The Gardon River seen from the Pont du Gard
Construction of an Ark at the time of the Romans
Model of construction of the Museum of the Pont du Gard bridge
Exhibition room at the Pont du Gard museum
Pont Du Gard - History
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. Tunnels dating from the time of Augustus had to be bypassed by the builders of the Nîmes aqueduct, and coins discovered in the outflow in Nîmes are no older than the reign of the emperor Claudius (41–54 AD). On this basis, a team led by Guilhem Fabre has argued that the aqueduct must have been completed around the middle of the 1st century AD. It is believed to have taken about fifteen years to build, employing between 800 and 1,000 workers.
From the 4th century onwards, the aqueduct's maintenance was neglected as successive waves of invaders disrupted the region. It became clogged with debris, encrustations and plant roots, greatly reducing the flow of the water. The resulting deposits in the conduit, consisting of layers of dirt and organic material, are up to 50 cm (20 in) thick on each wall. An analysis of the deposits originally suggested that it had continued to supply water to Nîmes until as late as the 9th century, but more recent investigations suggest that it had gone out of use by about the sixth century, though parts of it may have continued to be used for significantly longer.
Although some of its stones were plundered for use elsewhere, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact. Its survival was due to its use as a toll bridge across the valley. In the 13th century the French king granted the seigneurs of Uzès the right to levy tolls on those using the bridge. The right later passed to the Bishops of Uzès. In return, they were responsible for maintaining the bridge in good repair. However, it suffered serious damage during the 1620s when Henri, Duke of Rohan made use of the bridge to transport his artillery during the wars between the French royalists and the Huguenots, whom he led. To make space for his artillery to cross the bridge, the duke had one side of the second row of arches cut away to a depth of about one-third of their original thickness. This left a gap on the lowest deck wide enough to accommodate carts and cannons, but severely weakened the bridge in the process.
In 1703 the local authorities renovated the Pont du Gard to repair cracks, fill in ruts and replace the stones lost in the previous century. A new bridge was built by the engineer Henri Pitot in 1743–47 next to the arches of the lower level, so that the road traffic could cross on a purpose-built bridge. The novelist Alexandre Dumas was strongly critical of the construction of the new bridge, commenting that "it was reserved for the eighteenth century to dishonour a monument which the barbarians of the fifth had not dared to destroy." However, the Pont du Gard continued to deteriorate and by the time Prosper Mérimée saw it in 1835 it was at serious risk of collapse from erosion and the loss of stonework.
Napoleon III, who had a great admiration for all things Roman, visited the Pont du Gard in 1850 and took a close interest in it. He approved plans by the architect Charles Laisné to repair the bridge in a project which was carried out between 1855–58, with funding provided by the Ministry of State. The work involved substantial renovations that included replacing the eroded stone, infilling some of the piers with concrete to aid stability and improving drainage by separating the bridge from the aqueduct. Stairs were installed at one end and the conduit walls were repaired, allowing visitors to walk along the conduit itself in reasonable safety.
There have been a number of subsequent projects to consolidate the piers and arches of the Pont du Gard. It has survived three serious floods over the last century in 1958 the whole of the lower tier was submerged by a giant flood that washed away other bridges, and in 1998 another major flood affected the area. A further flood struck in 2002, badly damaging nearby installations.
|Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct) *|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Criteria||i, iii, iv|
|Region **||Europe and North America|
|* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List |
** Region as classified by UNESCO
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."
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The Roman aqueducts supplied fresh, clean water for baths, fountains, and drinking water for ordinary citizens.
Anthropology, Archaeology, Social Studies, World History
Pont du Gard Aqueduct
This is the Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, which crosses the Gard River, France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Robert Harding Picture Library
The Roman aqueduct was a channel used to transport fresh water to highly populated areas. Aqueducts were amazing feats of engineering given the time period. Though earlier civilizations in Egypt and India also built aqueducts, the Romans improved on the structure and built an extensive and complex network across their territories. Evidence of aqueducts remain in parts of modern-day France, Spain, Greece, North Africa, and Turkey.
Aqueducts required a great deal of planning. They were made from a series of pipes, tunnels, canals, and bridges. Gravity and the natural slope of the land allowed aqueducts to channel water from a freshwater source, such as a lake or spring, to a city. As water flowed into the cities, it was used for drinking, irrigation, and to supply hundreds of public fountains and baths.
Roman aqueduct systems were built over a period of about 500 years, from 312 B.C. to A.D. 226. Both public and private funds paid for construction. High-ranking rulers often had them built the Roman emperors Augustus, Caligula, and Trajan all ordered aqueducts built.
The most recognizable feature of Roman aqueducts may be the bridges constructed using rounded stone arches. Some of these can still be seen today traversing European valleys. However, these bridged structures made up only a small portion of the hundreds of kilometers of aqueducts throughout the empire. The capital in Rome alone had around 11 aqueduct systems supplying freshwater from sources as far as 92 km away (57 miles). Despite their age, some aqueducts still function and provide modern-day Rome with water. The Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed by Agrippa in 19 B.C. during Augustus&rsquo reign, still supplies water to Rome&rsquos famous Trevi Fountain in the heart of the city.
This is the Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, which crosses the Gard River, France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct)
تم تشييد جسر غارد قبل الحقبة المسيحية بفترة وجيزة بهدف السماح لقناة مدينة نيم التي يبلغ طولها 50 كيلومتراً من تجاوز نهر الغاردون. بتصوّرهم هذا الجسر الذي يبلغ طوله 50 كيلومتراً على ثلاثة مستويات 275متراً، ابتكر الهندسون المائيون والمهندسون المعماريون الرومان تحفةً تقنية وفنية في آن.
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Древнеримский акведук Пон-дю-Гар
Пон-дю-Гар &ndash мост через реку Гар, сооруженный незадолго до начала христианской эры, - стал составной частью 50-километрового акведука, поставлявшего питьевую воду в город Ним. Древнеримские архитекторы и инженеры по гидравлике, задумавшие этот трехярусный мост высотой почти 50 м (длиннейший ярус 275 м), создали технический и художественный шедевр.
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Puente del Gard
Construido poco antes de la Era Cristiana, este puente es el tramo del largo acueducto romano de Nimes &ndashcincuenta kilómetros&ndash por el que éste atraviesa el río Gard. Los arquitectos e ingenieros hidráulicos romanos que proyectaron esta construcción de 50 metros de altura con tres arcadas superpuestas &ndashla más larga mide 275 metros&ndash no sólo realizaron una proeza técnica, sino también una gran obra de arte.
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Pont du Gard (Romeins aquaduct)
De Pont du Gard werd kort vóór de christelijke jaartelling gebouwd om het aquaduct van Nîmes (dat bijna 50 kilometer lang is) over de rivier de Gard heen te leiden. De Romeinse architecten en waterbouwkundige ingenieurs die deze brug ontworpen hebben, creëerden een technisch en artistiek meesterwerk. De brug is bijna 50 meter hoog en heeft drie niveaus waarvan de bovenste met 275 meter de langste is. Het onderste gedeelte is ruim 6 meter breed en kreeg later de functie van (tol)brug. Het water van het aquaduct kwam uit de bronnen van Fontaine d’Eure die 17 meter hoger lagen dan de stad.
5. It continuously supplied water for over 50,000 people
The purpose of this massive aqueduct was to divert the water coming from springs nearby to the city of Nîmes, providing continuous running water for the citizens and various public places, including multiple bathhouses and fountains.
It was even possible to completely fill the amphitheater with water with the switch of a handle with the purpose to host mock naval battles!
All of the water was diverted into the “castellum divisorum,” a basin that distributed the water through pipes to the houses of the approximately 50,000 people living in the city back then.
It’s estimated that the aqueduct could provide 40,000 cubic meters (8,800,000 gallons) of water to the city every single day, a massive amount! Castellum divisorium / Carole Raddato / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en
#5 Pont du Gard was constructed without the use of mortar
It is estimated that it took between 10 and 15 years to construct the Nimes aqueduct with Pont du Gard taking less than 5 years and a labor force of 800 to 1,000 workers. Like many of the best Roman constructions, Pont du Gard was built without mortar. The stones used to build the aqueduct bridge, some of which weigh up to 6 tons, were precisely cut to fit perfectly together eliminating the need for mortar. The limestone rocks were extracted from quarries near the site. Pont du Gard contains an estimated 50,400 tons of limestone with a volume of some 21,000 meters cube.
A history and engineering lesson. I found Pont du Gard fascinating in how it introduced me to the concept of aqueducts. Nîmes, the city we stopped by the day before, was a Roman Empire outpost from around the 4th to 13th century. The Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct designed to channel water supply from the Gardon river to the city. There was a museum at its entrance, which offered extensive information on the importance of urban sanitation and its role in maintaining cleanliness and reduce urban diseases and ills. I recall one particular section of the museum that told of how water constantly flowed through the streets of Nîmes – clearing the pathways of human and animal filth. Without the flowing water, the dirtiness of such urban conditions would have led to public health consequences – a reality for many urban environments many centuries ago.
Seen in person, the Pont du Gard is a marvel of architecture. The structure is almost 50 meters in height and varies in its length depending on the levels. The deep-blue river flowed calmly beneath it. Even after it fell into disuse many years after the Roman Empire fell, the structure continued to function as a bridge. We found ourselves having a picnic by the riverside, enjoying servings of crusty baguette, slices of cheese, and apples. All while the Pont du Gard stood grandly in front of us.
NIMES 1 (France)
The aqueduct is special for several reasons. The only suitable source that the engineers could find for the water supply of Nîmes was at Uzés, 25 km to the north at 72 m altitude. The problem was that the source was at only 11.8 m above the site of the future castellum divisorium (the water distribution basin) at Nîmes at 60 m altitude. It was therefore necessary to make the aqueduct as short as possible. A direct straight connection was not possible since the high hills of the garrigue de Nîmes, 200 m high, blocked the way. A 10 km long tunnel would have been necessary to overcome these hills. The only workable solution was a trajectory around these hills to the east, lengthening the aqueduct to 50 km. Here, there were two other major difficulties first of all the Gardon river, which runs in a deep gorge, would have to be bridged. Upstream this could be done with a low bridge, but this would lengthen the trajectory. A choice was therefore made to bridge the gorge along the most direct route, and where the gorge was relatively narrow. As a consequence the bridge, the future Pont du Gard, had to be higher than anything previously built, nearly 50 metres high and 300m long. A siphon, known from other aqueducts, could not be used here since it needs a sizeable difference in altitude between abutments to create sufficient water flow through the pipes, and this was not possible here.
A second problem was a lake on the trajectory which was at 67 metres, 3 metres ABOVE the projected level of the aqueduct. To circumvent this lake, another 20 km had to be added to the trajectory and this was out of the question this lake therefore had to be emptied and drained before the aqueduct could be built. Finally, to make the trajectory as short as possible, a large number of minor bridges had to be built and several tunnels, up to 400 m long had to be dug. The result is an aqueduct of 50 km long with a mean gradient of 34-25 cm/km (about 0,03%), with a maximum of 45 cm/km near the source and near Nîmes, and only 8 cm/km in the long central section! To build an aqueduct in rough hilly, forested terrain without GPS or modern measuring equipment with such a low gradient is one of the greatest feats of Roman engineering recorded to date.
The volume of literature of the aqueduct and the Pont du Gard is vast, and we can only give a summary here of what we think are the most interesting aspects.
Detailed map of the trajectory of the aqueduct near the Pont du Gard.
Numbers are UTM coordinates, WGS84 datum (aqueduct in green)
The aqueduct of Nemausus starts at the Eure springs at Uzès. After passing a regulatory basin, it runs first south, then SE in a trench along the foot of the plateau of St-Sifflet. It crosses the steep gully of Bornègre and continues towards Vers, where it crosses two depressions on low bridges. From Vers, the aqueduct turns south where it runs almost continuously suspended over a series of three arcades and a two tier bridge in a broad loop towards the Gardon. It crosses the Gardon on the Pont du Gard, and the rough country of the Forest of Rémoulins along the slopes and over a series of small bridges to a regulatory basin at Rémoulins, the Lafoux reservoir, destroyed at the beginning of the 18th century. It then makes a loop around the depression of St Bonnet, crosses a low pass south of the village and continues SW towards Nemausus, through the two Sernhac quarry tunnels and a 400m long tunnel below the village of Sernhac. It then crosses below the drained lake of Clausonne and runs along the head of the Vistre valley, and along the slope of the hills towards the city, increasingly tortuous when approaching Nemausus. It passed below the town walls by the 400m long tunnel of Croix-de-Fer through a hill to the castellum divisorium in Nîmes.
In the previous section we have presented the Nîmes aqueduct as a masterpiece of Roman engineering, which it is, but this does not mean that it did not have some problems right from the start. In the section with the lowest gradient, between Vers and Rémoulins, the conduit filled up much higher than expected, to the top of the conduit, and was probably overflowing in many places. This problem was solved in that the walls of the conduit were raised. This is very obvious in the Pont du Gard itself and in some of the bridges downstream. On the Pont du Gard, the cover stones were removed, a layer of ashlars added, the opus signinum layer was extended upwards to cover the raised section, after which the cover slabs were replaced (see drawings). Except for the Pont du Gard, the conduit was vaulted and the vault had to be removed to raise the walls, after which new vaults had to be built. Because there was permanently more water in the aqueduct than foreseen, the weight of this water on the bridges and arcades could be a problem. It could lead to collapsing arcs or push the conduit walls outwards in those sections where it was covered with a vault, which was already exerting an outward push. Therefore, in some sections upstream the arches were filled up with walls (Lône , Pont Roupt and Valive arcades) while downstream the bridges were strengthened by lateral walls to keep the conduit walls from pushing outwards.
The Nîmes aqueduct has a large number of different structures along its course, but there are some general characteristics. The aqueduct is mostly built in an excavation in rock or soil and has a concrete base, on which rubble masonry walls were built, 1.2 metres high and 1.2 metres apart (4 Roman feet). a fine concrete sole was laid in the conduit, and the walls were plastered with red opus signinum, including a beading along the edges of the channel. Strange enough, and typical for the Nîmes aqueduct, no opus signinum was laid on the sole of the channel. The conduit was then vaulted in rubble masonry so that the total height of the channel was 1.8 metres. The extrados was sealed with a layer of mortar to make it waterproof and to prevent infiltration of groundwater and the whole structure was then buried, and remained exposed on the bridges. All bridges and arcades are built in limestone, mostly in rubble masonry faced with neat courses of "petit appareil" with finely worked voussoirs. Pillars were set on ashlar bases, mostly in two courses. Only the big bridges were entire built in ashlar masonry.
A segmented aqueduct?
|The Pont du Gard seen from SE|
Recently Glard and Bossy (2000) suggested that the Pont du Gard may already have operated according to this modern principle, and that some sections of it could be emptied and repaired while the delivery of water to Nîmes continued. It took 28-32 hours for the water from the Eure springs to reach Nîmes, and the conduit would contain 35-38.000 m3 of water, so a quick repair would have been possible. This theory could also explain the gentle slope of the central segment, and the raising of the conduit walls there maybe, the water level rose higher than predicted in segments here.
Sinter, layered crystalline calcium carbonate, was deposited in the central portion of the aqueduct with a layer of up to 0.50 m thick. The layer tapers upwards because the water level gradually increased in the course of time. Calcium carbonate can dissolve in water that contains carbon dioxide, but precipitates due to changes in water pressure, temperature, water speed and a number of other factors. In the case of the Nîmes aqueduct, the water came from deep caves below the St-Sifflet plateau, and decompression was the main culprit of sinter deposition. Interestingly, the fist part of the conduit at Uzès is clean and free of sinter. This is because the deposition reaction starts after about 1 hour 40 minutes, and at that time the water had traveled 7-10 km and reached Bonnègre. The whole section downstream from there was affected, with maximum deposits just below the Pont du Gard. In Nîmes, deposition of sinter was much less again since most had already been removed.
Most of what we know about the Nîmes aqueduct has been learned from analysis of the sinter deposits. The aqueduct was built in the second half of the first century, and operated without problems for about 150 years, judging from the sinter deposits (100-250 AD). The sinter deposits of this fist period are massive and clear, indicating the flow of clear, unpolluted water. After this date, the sinter becomes brown and tainted, probably because the water was polluted with soil and groundwater that fell in through the broken vaults. The aqueduct kept functioning, and an attempt was made to repair it in the fourth or fifth century. At that time, the water may no longer have reached Nîmes, and much of it was diverted for irrigation in the upstream part, especially between Vers and the Pont du Gard where the arcades could easily be tapped. In 720 Charles Martel "liberated" and destroyed Nîmes, and the aqueduct, if functioning, was no longer needed.
Pont du Gard History
The Roman waterway from Uzès to Nimes was started around 40 BC. It's not sure when the Pont du Gard aqueduct across the Gardon river was built, but it was probably between 19 BC and about 2 BC.
The Pont du Gard was added to UNESCO's list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1985.
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 Uzès to the Roman city of Nemausus (Nîmes). 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 (see Compagnons du Tour de France), 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 fronts sinistra II, or "front left 2").
In 1998 the Pont du Gard was hit by major flooding which caused widespread damage in the area. The road leading up to it and the neighboring facilities were badly damaged, although the aqueduct itself was not seriously harmed.
The French Government sponsored a major redevelopment project in conjunction with local sources, UNESCO and the EU which concluded in 2000, pedestrianising the entire area around the aqueduct and greatly improving the visitor facilities, including establishing a museum on the north bank. The project has been criticized for its cost (&euro32 million) and for the perceived loss of natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and area. One side-effect is that it is no longer possible to walk through the conduit at the top of the aqueduct. However, the redevelopment has ensured that the area around the Pont du Gard is now much quieter due to the removal of vehicle traffic, and the new museum provides a much improved historical context for visitors.