Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD to carry water over 50 km (31 mi) to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). It crosses the river Gardon near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. The Pont du Gard is the tallest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, as well as one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites in 1985 because of its exceptional preservation, historical importance, and architectural ingenuity.

 Engraving of the Pont du Gard by Charles-Louis Clérisseau, 1804, showing the seriously dilapidated state of the bridge at the start of the 19th century

The construction of the aqueduct has long been credited to the Roman emperor 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.[1] Newer excavations 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.[2] It is believed to have taken about fifteen years to build, employing between 800 and 1,000 workers.[3]

From the 4th century onwards, the aqueduct's maintenance was neglected as successive waves of invaders disrupted the region.[4] 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.[5] An analysis of the deposits originally suggested that it had continued to supply water to Nîmes until as late as the 9th century,[6] 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.[7]

 West end of the Pont du Gard in 1891, showing the stairs installed by Charles Laisné to enable visitors to enter the conduit

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.[6] 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.[8]

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.[9][8] 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."[10] 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.[11]

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 and 1858, 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.[11]

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,[11] and in 1998 another major flood affected the area. A further flood struck in 2002, badly damaging nearby installations.

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".[12] The description on the list states: "The hydraulic engineers and ... architects who conceived this bridge created a technical as well as artistic masterpiece."[9]

^ Cite error: The named reference Bromwich-110 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Fabre, Guilhem; Fiches, Jean-Luc; Paillet, Jean-Louis (1991). "Interdisciplinary Research on the Aqueduct of Nimes and the Pont du Gard". Journal of Roman Archaeology. 4: 63–88. doi:10.1017/S104775940001549X. S2CID 193800472. ^ Strachan, Edward; Bolton, Roy (2008). Russia & Europe in the Nineteenth Century. Sphinx Fine Art. p. 60. ISBN 9781907200021. ^ Cite error: The named reference Boyle was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Homer-Dixon, Thomas F. (2006). The upside of down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization. Island Press. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-59726-065-7. ^ a b Cleere, Henry (2001). Southern France: an Oxford archaeological guide. Oxford University Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-19-288006-2. ^ Magnusson, Roberta J. (2001). Water Technology in the Middle Ages: Cities, Monasteries, and Waterworks after the Roman Empire. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0801866265. ^ a b Rennie, George (1855). "Description of the Pont du Gard". Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 14: 238. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference Langmead was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Cite error: The named reference Wigan was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ a b c Bromwich, p. 117 ^ UNESCO (2012). The World's Heritage. Collins. p. 229. ISBN 978-0007435616.
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