Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pont du Garde, France

The Pont du Gard is possibly the most famous remaining aqueduct constructed by the Roman Empire's engineers, politicians, workers and slaves. This massive structure brought about 5 million gallons of water daily to Nîmes, carrying it about 50 kms from the springs near Uzès. They say that the engineers designed this aqueduct so carefully that the water was required to drop a mere 50 or so feet over the distance of 50 kms, a fall of about 34 cm/km. Much of the bridge spanning the Gardon River still survives (12 spans are missing), and the three levels of arches are indeed spectacular, both visually and as a feat of engineering. My friend Bob once climbed to the top and (foolishly?) walked the length of the top. Obviously, if one slips, there is limited time for a final prayer.

As Romans began constructing this massive structure, one can only imagine what the local villagers and farmers thought, for they would never have imagined such a project being possible. The aqueduct was yet another symbol of the authority, ingenuity, power and economic might of the occupying forces.

The large archways both reduced the amount of material required and allowed the river to flow unimpeded whenever it flooded, as it often still does.

Over the centuries, the flooding has only slightly eroded the pillars, which remain in remarkably good shape, considering they are more than 1,900 years old.

Part of the aqueduct served as a bridge/road across the valley.

Looking down from the bridge, you see the valley created by the River Gardon.

Standing on the bridge/road, we can look up at the underside of the second level of arches.

The entire structure was constructed without cement--the stones were cut so that they fit perfectly. The Romans are credited with inventing cement, but even they apparently sense--or knew--that something this heavy would be more than their cement could withstand. Some of these individual stones weigh 6 tonnes.

I am assuming that these square holes once held a wooden structure which served as scaffolding for the builders. As I admired the grandeur of the aqueduct, I wondered how many men fell to their death while working on this masterpiece.

Janice is photographing a few of the plants which somehow manage to survive on the part of the rocky riverbed which serves as a floodplain.