... I read Lawrence Durrell's book, Caesar's Vast Ghost, some years ago and, as is often the case with books about France, I felt compelled to see what the writer had seen. As I was leafing through my journals recently I came across this…
… in Gard this time around. My purpose is to visit the Pont du Gard, a vast piece of Roman architecture that Durrell dubbed to be 'so huge in conception' that it ranked along side Westminster Abbey. Having seen it, I know exactly what he means.
The Pont du Gard sits across the valley of the river Gardon, which rises in the mountains of the Cévennes close to St-Martin-de-Lansuscle (48). The river runs for about 127 kilometres (just short of 80 miles) until it joins the Rhone just north of Beaucaire. The bridge, is not a route across the valley as I had originally thought before I read my Durrell, is an aqueduct. It was built solely to bring water to the Roman settlement of Nemausus - that's our modern city of Nîmes. At the time, Nemausus was a vast city of some 60,000 inhabitants and a regional capital. The modern city has a population only 3 times the size of the ancient one. But the roman legacy is very much in existance.
The aqueduct, which once carried water along its 50K (about 30 miles) length, was built under the auspices of emperor Augustus in the 1st century AD by his son-in-law, Marcus Visanius Agrippa. I guess that means even the ancient Romans kept it all in the family!
As I stood looking at the monument, I had to marvel at the sheer scale. But, when you take into account that it is only a little short of 2,000 years old, that it stands 49 metres (161 feet) above the water, that there is no mortar holding the vast blocks of limestone together, you
surely have to admit that the Romans must have known what they were doing. You also, surely have to admit that when they invaded this area of France, they very definitely came with the intention of staying. But, then my thoughts turned to how? There were no mechanical diggers back then. And what about the vast amount of human effort involved in the day-to-day work of construction…
… When I got back home after that trip I clearly did some more research as I've added some notes at the side of the original entry. Apparently the edifice took between 15 and 20 years to build and used up to 1,000 workers at any one time. When I visited Nîmes three years ago, I was able to see the other end of the aqueduct.