It was our first visit to the Pont du Gard in the South of France and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Had it been turned into a crass, Disneyland-esque experience for the masses? Was it just another tourist trap? The answer is … absolutely not! It was one of those rare experiences where you learn a little and are astounded a lot! The Pont du Gard, registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, is a wonderful historical engineering marvel located in the middle of a naturally beautiful landscape. We were accompanied by Lysianne Boissy d’ Anglas of the Gard Tourisme Office and it couldn’t have been a better experience.
After parking in the spacious lot, we entered the visitor center where we met Jeremy Borde, the promotions director of the Pont du Gard monument, who took us on a private tour of the site. We walked along a stone path leading to the aqueduct past 1000 year old olive trees with gnarled trunks and healthy grey-green leaves. We noticed many people using the trees as a prop for their photos. After all, it isn’t everyday that you see a thousand year old tree! The Pont du Gard itself was built in the first century AD and the surrounding area was occupied many centuries before that!
As we approached the aqueduct and the Garon River which flows beneath the aqueduct we watched families swimming and picnicking along the limestone banks while enjoying the view of a lifetime. Jeremy described how in the autumn of 2002, this seemingly sleepy river flooded, changing the landscape forever. One side of the river now has a local scrub vegetation known as garrigue, which is characterized by evergreen oak trees, compact bushes, and herbs, while the other side of the river is lush with Plane trees and thick woods.
We initally walked across the lower level of the pont (bridge) enjoying views of the gently flowing river and marveling at the notion that we were troding where Romans walked centuries ago. When built, this Roman engineering feat, comprised of three tiers of arches, stood at 160 ft. and carried 44 million gallons of water per day between the town of Uzes and the water tower (Castellum) of Nimes (31 miles.)
On the left bank of the river, we stopped for a wonderful lunch at Les Terrasses outdoor cafe. Here you can enjoy a very fine meal and sip a glass of wine, all with a prime view of the Pont du Gard.
After our repast, we walked back to the pont and climbed to the top tier where the water once flowed. Jeremy pointed out that the wide, rock-like formations on the interior sides of this tier were caused by years of calcification from the flowing water. This tier was quite dark because it was covered with massive stone slabs with just a few openings on the top to allow light to come in.
After our tour, we visited the museum with multimedia presentations on the Gallo-Roman civilization, the building of the Pont du Gard and other aqueducts, and more information and artifacts to help visitors understand the aqueduct and bridge.
We were on a busy time schedule, so did not have time to take advantage of the hiking trails or take a dip in the Garone River. I was also sorry to miss an exhibition on the left bank entitled ‘Mémoires de garrigue’. It offers an informative trail through 15 hectares of land that demonstrates how the land was shaped over the past 2000 years. A team of scientists plus a set designer and a landscape gardener designed the layout of this open air museum trail that lasts between one and two hours.
Upon leaving, I kept wondering to myself why it took us so long to visit this treasure.
If You Visit the Pont du Gard:
The Pont du Gard site is open all year round. The discovery areas are open every day except Monday morning and from November to March.
from 9:00 or 09:30 to 17:30 or 19:00 depending on the season
There are two car parks, with surveillance, at your disposal, open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. There are 800 places on the left bank and 600 places on the right bank.
The Pont du Gard and many of its trails are completely accessible by wheelchair.
Written by Terri Fogarty and photos by Bill Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com