Most Beautiful Plumbing, Pont du Gard
No other structure in southern France is as famous as the Roman Aqueduct of the Pont du Gard aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Plumbing System”. The enormous bridge is part of the Nimes aqueduct, a system of over 31 miles that brought fresh water from a fresh water spring at Uzes to the Roman settlement in Nimes (Nemausus) back in the first century.
The Pont du Gard is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts (160 feet high with three levels of archways) and one of the best preserved. After the fall of the Roman Empire the bridge served as a toll bridge, which contributed to its’ upkeep and current excellent condition.
Because of the uneven, hilly terrain most of the aqueduct system was underground, following a long, winding route that needed a bridge across the Gardon River. The engineering skills that went into building this aqueduct are simply amazing; especially considering it was built in the first century AD.
Prior to actually seeing the Pont du Gard we made our way through its’ museum just a short walk away. The museum does a fantastic job of demonstrating construction techniques used in the bridge with life-sized reconstructions. It is also home to an elaborate display that dives right into the heart of the ancient Roman world. Did you know the Romans used lead pipes to deliver the fresh spring water into their homes? I didn’t and it was fascinating.
Speaking of Nimes, did you know the word “denim” comes from a tough fabric originally produced in Nimes? It was used as a sacking material as far back as the 6th century and worked its’ way to America via Genoa (Genes in French). In 1850 Levi Strauss used this sacking material to make durable clothing for the hard working miners in California during the gold rush. Strauss added copper rivets to the pockets and invented the original “Gene’s de Nimes”, denim jeans.
After our morning at the Ponte du Gard our ship continued on to the walled city of Viviers. This tiny medieval city (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) literally gave us the feeling of being transported back in time.
The Cathedral of St. Vincent and walled old city of Viviers perch high atop a cliff commanding amazing views of the Rhone below. The bishop and his compatriots lived up there, and the lower city developed as home to the merchants and townspeople.
Known as one of the best preserved medieval towns in southern France, Viviers is truly unspoiled. Tourists haven’t discovered Viviers and we delighted to the sound of local kids playing at recess and no cheesy souvenir shops. Doug and I were strolling around the top of the cliff and a local girl took our photo with my cell phone while she was playing with her dog. It was an authentic experience and it turns out French dogs enjoy playing fetch with Americans.
This stretch of the Rhone was simply stunning. Huge limestone walls flank both side of the river, some of them nearly straight up. Everyone onboard our ship (Poetry II) enjoyed our trip through what was at one time the largest lock in the world, the Bollene lock with 85 foot walls.
We passed many castles along the Rhone (the locals call them ABC-another bloody castle) and we also passed a massive nuclear plant. I did not realize France has 57 nuclear power plants and produces some of the cheapest electricity in Europe.
We learned so much during this first half of our trip; wait until I tell you about the Knights Templar and Vienne next week.
Joy Gawf-Crutchfield owns and operates The Joy of Travel