Pont du Gard, Avignon
The most beautiful place, but am I the only one to see that, clearly these are marked as Provence trips and AVIGNON AND PONT DU GARD, ARLES & most of the other "Provencal" sites are in fact IN LANGUEDOC ROUSSILLON!! Clearly Provence does not have any good sites to visit so has to lay claim to our own Languedoc Roussillon as it's own!!
The worlds tallest Roman bridge ,an aqueduct built by the Romans in five years. An amazing place . There is an admission charge of 10 Euro single, groups rates apply. ,i must say that the admission procedure is very lax. There are tour buses to Pont du Gard. Public buses go from Avignon and Nimes. I travelled from Avignon Gare Routiere this must be the worlds worst bus station, it is dark and smelly and the bus bays are not numerical.There is an information place. The bus is A15 direction of Ales , fare 1.50 Euro[ cheap! ] A tip is get a timetable leaflet has buses are not very often and some go to Parking Pont du Gard and others Rond Point, 5 minutes walk away. The bus company is Edgard. The bus i took was 08-45 and arrived PdG 09-30.the next was 11-40. The platform bay was 11 at the far end of the dark bus station. By the way the Pont du Gard is on the back of the five euro bank note.
Of all the world's great cultural swimming spots, this has got to be right up at the top of the list!
We visited at the very end of September when Europe was experiencing an Indian summer. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't even have contemplated swimming in a river in early autumn, but it was pleasantly hot (late 20s centigrade) and the water just looked so tempting!
It will be one of my most treasured memories of a magical few days and I would highly recommend it as the perfect way to cool off on a hot day. Here are some pointers to make the best of your experience.
1. We took our dip downstream of the Pont, but having strolled to the upstream side thereafter, I think that this would offer better swimming opportunities for adults, as there is a narrower channel and sections with rocky sides. Children are probably better kept on the downstream side where the shore slopes gently and there is a rocky beach.
2. The stones on the river bed are large cobbles and very hard on bare feet - this is important as the shore slopes gently on the downstream side, so you have to walk for quite a few metres before the water is deep enough to swim. In hindsight, I would greatly have appreciated a pair of Crocs - however inelegant - or some other form of waterproof shoe to protect the soles of my feet.
3. Otherwise the usual rules for swimming in rivers apply: make sure you can swim in the first place (otherwise don't venture in above waist height), don't swim after heavy rainfall for fear of being swept away or hit by debris being swept downstream. From a hygiene point of view, I am presuming that you wouldn't want to swim in a sewer, so don't do anything yourself that would contribute to it becoming one (was that tactful enough?)
Let's be clear about this from the outset: the Pont du Gard is so jawdroppingly beautiful that it has no bad angle, and wherever you view it from, it is utterly aweinspiring.
But given that we're talking about virtual perfection here, one can afford to be a little picky. For some reason that I haven't quite fathomed, most people tend to head downstream, and fewer tend to venture upstream, which is nice because it gets less crowded.
To my mind, the views are better from upstream, and if you are a serious photographer, you also have the opportunity of photographing the neaby village of Remoulins through one of the arches. The swimming is also better here for adults, as the channel is more defined, but if you have children, I would go downstream where the river is wider and the channel slopes gently from a rock beach (see my other travel tip).
This is the 'working end' of the aqueduct and I found it absolutely fascinating to realise just how it works.
The main body of the aqueduct is merely a support mechanism for the meticulously graduated canal at the top. The aqueduct was designed so that the water flowed from the source at Fontaine d'Eure (near Uzès) to the discharge point at Nîmes under gravity, so it was vital that the channel sloped at a gentle but regular angle to keep the water flowing. As a result, there is a 17m height difference between one side of the aqueduct in order to maintain an elevation difference of only 0.025m (ie 2.5cm) in the waterbearing canal between one side and the other.
The precision engineering and surveying that this required is quite extraordinary and makes you realise yet again what a true engineering marvel this structure is.
Unfortunately it is only possible to access the canal on top of the aqueduct at certain times of the year - sadly it was closed to the public when we visited, and this photo is taken through the gate. The section of canal over the bridge is covered - which would serve to reduce evaporation and also minimise the risk of windborne debris blowing into the channel - and it must be absolutely amazing to walk through this covered section. Next time!!!
It's quite impossible to overstate what a marvel of engineering this is, and all the more staggering for the fact that it was completed some time in the half century before the birth of Christ.
The statistics speak for themselves.
The bridge is 49m high and 274m long, and narrows from a base with a width of 9m to a width of 3m at the top. It has a triple tier construction which comprises six spans at the lower level, 11 on the middle level and 35 (originally 47) spans on the upper level which support the water channel on the uppermost level. A road bridge was a modern addition in the 18th century.
The canal links the spring at Fontaine d'Eure (near Uzès) to Nîmes - this is a distance of only about 20km as the crow flies, but the route of the canal is actually 50km, in order to maintain the uniform gradient required to keep the water flowing under gravity. As the elevation difference between the spring and Nîmes is only a paltry 17m over 50km, you realise how important accurate surveying and quality control on construction was and what very clever chaps these Romans were.
However, for me, the most mindblowing statistic of all is to calculate how many people's water requirement this aqueduct was designed to cater for. The canal was contructed to provide 200 ML (44 million gallons) of water a day to the nearby city of Nîmes: an enormous volume. To put this into context - as water is actually my business - a reasonable rule of thumb to calculate the daily water requirement for a modern household (including all domestic uses) is 60-100L per person per day, which means that the canal could have supplied up to two million people in a modern context (although you'd need to take into account factors such as evaporation, seepage losses and fluctuations in spring flow). However you slice it, it's an awful lot of water, and gives you an indication of how densely populated this region must already have been in Roman times!
Where do you even begin to start in describing Pont Du Gard, simply one of the great wonders of the world in my book?
Well, to start with, there's so much to say about this site that I have written a series of tips to highlight different aspects of its attractions, otherwise this tip would be as long as your arm.
I suggested this to my parents as a possible day trip from Avignon, not knowing that this was somewhere that my father had wanted to visit his whole life, so it turns out that I was kicking in an open door on that front!
Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct that dates to the first century BC and was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site as early as 1985.
Despite its astonishing engineering, it started to fall into disuse about the 4th century AD, due to poor maintenance which allowed the buildup of debris and chemical precipitates in the water channel. The gradient is so slight along the channel (a tiny 17m over 50km) that even the slightest impediment would significantly impede water flow, and with time flow continued to decline. By the Middle Ages, ironically its primary function was as a toll bridge across the River Gard and a source of 'free' building materials for local farmers who borrowed from it liberally for their own constructions (and wouldn't you have been tempted too in their position?). It was restored under Napoleon III in the 19th century and underwent a major makeover in 2000 which saw the construction of a visitors' centre and museum, as well as improved parking, ablutions and associated facilities.
Most astonishing of all, at the time of writing (October 2011) entrance to this miracle of classical engineering is FREE! The museum - which we didn't visit due to time pressures - has an entrance fee but you can just wander through the visitors' centre down to the river and feast your eyes on this utterly remarkable sight.
The only downside? I can imagine that this gets incredibly crowded in peak season, so my suggestion is that you visit out of season (we visited at the end of September, and it was still warm enough to swim in the river) or visit early or late in the day (which, admittedly, is difficult if you use public transport).
Lastly, some advice on how to get there. Pont du Gard cannot be practically be accessed by rail, so you'll need to catch a bus from the bus station in Avignon (see my transport tip for more details on how to access this).
To access Pont du Gard from Avignon, catch bus A15 which runs between Avignon and Alès. The journey takes about an hour but be aware that buses on this route run only every couple of hours and so there are only a few services a day that allow you to make a comfortable day trip. The cost of a one way ticket is a laughably paltry €1.50 - well worth running the gauntlet of litter and stinky smells at the less-than-hygienic Avignon bus station for!
No question about it: this has to be the coolest way to experience Pont du Gard!
Several operators offer canoeing trips on the River Gardon. I have included the website details for one such operator just for context: I must stress that I haven't used them myself, but it gives you an indication of prices and other conditions. Their whole day packages in particular seem to be pretty reasonable.
I think that this would be a particularly wonderful thing to do with older kids (provided that they can swim!) which is particularly welcome as it can often be tricky to find family activities that will appeal to (pre)teenagers.
And lastly, for fear of sounding like someone's mother (which indeed I am), bear in mind that it's particularly easy to get sunburnt on the water, as the cool breeze off the water tends to lull you into a sense of false security and the water surface reflects the sun's rays. So make sure that you slather yourself in sunscreen, wear something with sleeves and cover up with a hat to avoid being grilled!
This is definitely on my personal 'to do' list for next time!
It is amazing that this once quiet spot still stands untouched. On this and another earlier visit , there were two large camp grounds on the river bank and nearby. Can you imagine that when we first came here there were less than 100 visitors a day (1978) and we could climb over all three levels, there were no guards, and our bus went out on the lower level?
Located midway between Avignon and Nimes, this is one of the treasures of the ancient world. Built by the Romans in the 1st Century, it is a massive aqueduct built to supply water to the nearby city of Nimes. It is one of the largest and greatest engineering acheivements.
Adjacent is a foot bridge built under Napoleon III when the aqueduct was restored.
A museum is located at the entry. Though access is free, there is a fee for parking.
The Pont du Gard is a beautiful and amazing structure. It is a 2000 year old Roman aqueduct that until very recently supplied over 40 million gallons of water daily to the city of Nimes. I am in awe of the expetise of Roman engineers when I see the things they built that are still standing and for all practical purposes still functional. This huge stone structure has no mortar - the stones are made to fit together in perfect fashion and using the arches the weight supports itself.
On a beatiful day go and visit Pont Du Gard (try to combine it in a day trip with Orange). On a hot day, swimming or canoeing under the bridge can be vey refreshing. You´ll find it very difficult to abandon it later in the afternoon.
You'll see a magnificent part of an old aqueduc build arounr 19 BC that carried water from Uzes to Nimes. It's very impressive and you'll feel like Obelix or Asterix can turn the corner at any time! A little park under the trees is a wonderfull place to have a picnic. There's also a snak bar.
The Pont du Gard is part of a 50 km long aquaduct that supplied the Roman city of Nimes with water. It also serves as a bridge, spanning the river Gard. The aquaduct was built around 20 BC. We camped just below the bridge on a campground next to the river.
We really enjoyed watching the kids jump from the cliffs. It was a really hot day and we felt like joining them. Unfortunately my wife thought I might make to big of a wave when I landed. :)