The Pont du Gard is part of the 50 km (31 mile) Nîmes aqueduct constructed by the Romans in the 1st century between 41 and 54 AD to bring fresh water from a spring near Uzès, the Fontaine d'Eure, to the Roman city of Nîmes where it was distributed to fountains, baths and private homes around the city.
When we go, we park in the lot on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank which is the main entry and parking lot. The main visitor center is on this side, where you walk through to access the Pont du Gard. There is a small charge for parking and they have recently instituted a fee for visiting the Pont du Gard.
The visitors' center is where the ticket machines and information center are located. Here too are restrooms, snack bar, souvenir shops, book store and audio-guides for your visit (available in several languages).
It is a short walk from the visitors' center to the Pont du Gard. If you go, make sure you check out the construction, enjoy the view up or down the river valley, wander across to the far side, explore down along the river and climb up the steps to the upper trail where you have great views of the bridge and surrounding area.
|View of Pont du Gard as you arrive from Visitor's Center|
As you walk out to the Pont du Gard, make sure to look for the ancient olive tree on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank along the path to the Pont du Gard from the Visitor Center. The sign by the tree says it was born in 908 and lived in Spain till 1985 when the Counsel General of the Gard adopted the tree and planted it here in 1988
|Ancient olive tree along path to Pont du Gard from Left Bank Visitor's Center|
The Gardon River seen below gives its name to the Gard Department. Several of its tributaries are also called Gardon. The Gardon is 133 km long and flows into the Rhône River at Beaucaire, from where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
|View south down the Gardon River from Pont du Gard|
After the Roman Empire collapsed and the aqueduct fell into disuse, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact, due to the importance of its secondary function, as a toll bridge. For centuries the local lords and bishops were responsible for its upkeep, in exchange for the right to levy tolls on travelers crossing the river.
|Pedestrian roadway at the base of the Pont du Gard|
The Pont du Gard was built of soft-yellow limestone blocks taken from nearby Estel quarry that borders the Gardon river's left bank and assembled largely without mortar or clamps. The stones, some of which weigh up to 6 tons, were cut to perfectly fit together eliminating the need for mortar. The cut stone was lifted into place with a human-powered treadmill providing the power for the winch.
|Pont du Gard from the upper trail|
The straight-line distance between Nîmes and the water source is only about 20 km (12 mi). However due to uneven terrain, the mostly underground aqueduct takes a long, winding route measuring around 50 km (31 mi). The Romans had to build a bridge with a channel to allow water to flow across the Gardon River to successfully complete the aqueduct.
|Channel on top of Pont du Gard that carried water across the Gardon River|
The Aqueduct of Nîmes had the capacity to carry 35,000 cubic meters of water a day from the spring which was the source of fresh water for the city of Nîmes. It took nearly 27 hours for the water to get from the spring to Nîmes.
Some sections of the channel are tunneled through solid rock as you can see below. In all, 35 km (22 mi) of the aqueduct was constructed below the ground.
|The entrance to the underground channel after the water crossed the Pont du Gard|
The Pont du Gard has three tiers of arches; the bottom row has 6 arches of 22 m (72 ft) height; the middle row has 11 arches 20 m (66 ft) height; and the upper row has 35 (originally 47) arches of 7 m (23 ft) height. The width of the bridge varies from 9 m (30 ft) at the bottom to 3 m (9.8 ft) at the top. It has a length of 274 m (899 ft) and stands at a height of 48.8 m (160 ft).
|View of Pont du Gard from upper trail|
As I told you here, an excellent way to view the Pont du Gard from a completely different perspective is from a canoe on the Gardon River on a hot summer day. There are several canoe companies around Collias that will provide shuttle transport to your point of departure and from your point of arrival.
|Shirley and neighbors at the Pont du Gard|
The Pont du Gard is open all year round, though the restaurant and some indoor areas close for part of the winter. You can stay there after dark (exact closing times vary depending on the season), when the bridge is illuminated in summer.
|View north up the Gardon River from the Pont du Gard with the 19th century watermill in the distance|
Despite having been to the Pont du Gard quite a few times, Shirley and I are amazed anew each time by the sheer size of the bridge and how the Romans were able to design and build it without much more than math and manpower. It is believed to have taken about fifteen years to build, employing between 800 and 1,000 workers.
If you are in the area, we think this is one of the sites you must visit. Let us know what you think.