Home Architectural Travel A Roman Monument in the South of France

A Roman Monument in the South of France

by Penny Sadler

The resounding impact of my steps as I walk beneath these mighty arches made me think I could almost hear the voices of those who built them. I was lost, like an insect, in its immensity. I felt, though small and insignificant, that something unknown was lifting my soul, and I said to myself, “Am I not a Roman!”
philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 

Inspiring poets, philosophers, artists, and architects for centuries, the Pont du Gard stands as a reminder of the genius and grandeur of the Roman Empire. Imagine you are in the middle of a huge wilderness area, surrounded by undeveloped land, and suddenly, a massive Roman structure, 2,000 years old and completely intact appears in front of you.I didn’t visit the south of France looking for Roman monuments. And yet, I found myself gazing upon the granddaddy of all Roman aqueducts. Yep, it’s really all that.

 

 Roman Monument Southern France

 

I think part of the reason the Pont du Gard made such an impression on me is because of the location, which reminded me somewhat of the Texas Hill Country, with its low growing scruffy plant life, oak trees, and hot dry summers.

I spent about an hour and half walking along a path that followed the Gardon River upstream. I found a path that lead to a spot underneath one of the arches of the bridge. I put my hands on those ancient stones, and tried to imagine the energy and vision of the people who created this magnificent structure. Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, I felt small and insignificant and uplifted at the same time.

Why was the Pont du Gard built?

The Pont du Gard was built as part of an aqueduct meant to carry water about 12.5 miles from Uzes to the city of Nimes (once referred to at the Rome of France). The bridge is three tiers high, approximately 164 feet tall, and 30 miles long. It took over 1,000 men five years to build the bridge which houses the aqueduct.

Spanning the Gardon River in the Languedoc in the Gard region of southwestern France, the Pont du Gard has withstood frequent flooding, while more recently built bridges in the area have not. You have to hand it to the Romans, they were the best architects in the world and knew how to build things that would last.

A Roman Ruin in Southern France

In 1985, the Pont du Gard became a UNESCO World Heritage Site (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). To become a UNESCO site, it had to meet the following criteria:

  • It is a masterpiece of human creative genius
    It is a unique example of Roman civilization
    It is an outstanding example of a type of construction which combined architectural and technical skills.
    To summarize: it is an enduring example of the cultural heritage of the Roman Empire.

 

Today at the Pont du Gard

The location of the Pont du Gard, surrounded by 165 hectares of protected land in the south of France, accentuates its immense size and remarkable architecture. It has always been accessible to the public, and is a wonderful area for recreation, including hiking, kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing. It is the most popular monument in France, and receives over 1,000,000 visitors per year. Due to the nature of the site and the unique landscape – referred to in the Mediterranean as the garrigue (limestone soil with fragrant vegetation like lavender, thyme and juniper) – it is important to be respectful, and take everything with you that you bring in.

If you go

The Pont du Gard is offered as an excursion to travelers on the Viking River Cruises Provence to Lyon itinerary. One of many excellent tours I took on the eight day cruise, it stands out as a highlight of my time in France. This tour usually sells out quickly, so if you do go with Viking be sure to book it early on.

 

You can also visit the Pont du Gard on your own. I recommend basing yourself in Arles or Avignon. Both cities have historic centers which are UNESCO sites. Arles is only 10 minutes more drive time to the Pont du Gard, than from Avignon. Rick Steves describes Arles as “grittier than Avignon” and I’d say that’s accurate. I loved it because of the Roman ruins and the Van Gogh history. However I also loved Avignon, a very pretty city that is full of lovely shops, cafes, and home to the Palace du Papes. Check back for more stories on my time there.

 

Here’s the link for the official Pont du Gard website.

PIN IT!
 Roman Monument Southern France

photo by and adapted for Adventures of a Carry-on

 

 

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44 comments

Nancy October 18, 2017 at 12:43 am

The Pont du Gard is magnificent. I had a feeling you were writing about it when I read the opening quote by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I visited the Pont du Gard on my own in early April – it was very quiet. It’s wonderful that you can also visit the UNESCO site as part of Viking River Cruise.

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Penny Sadler October 18, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Yes it’s one of the side excursions offered. It was a tough choice as there were other to chose from but now that I’ve done it I’d easily recommend it over anything else.

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Kiyoko October 17, 2017 at 11:21 am

As a lover of architecture, this place is a must visit for me if I am ever in the area. One of my favorite parts of traveling is seeing all the incredibly breathtaking and impressive structures that we humans have been able to build. The even better part is that, they’re all different across the world. They all have their unique styles, colors, and more. Roman architecture in particular has always fascinated me, probably just because of the greatness associated with it.

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Penny Sadler October 18, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Yes, those dang Romans got around!

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Jitaditya Narzary October 17, 2017 at 10:24 am

Love Pont du Gard. Hard to imagine that they managed to build this 2000 years ago and it is still standing! I can imagine a Roman Legion resting under it after a tiring march. Wish to see more photographs from different angles.

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Penny Sadler October 18, 2017 at 3:43 pm

Thanks for your comment. I wish I’d had time to take more photos.

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Kirstie October 16, 2017 at 7:45 am

Impressive architecture. A great find, one will usually miss this because much of the tourists would concentrate in places like the Eiffel tower. It does look very Roman. What I love the most about what you said is when you said you felt the energy and the vision of the people who built it. Beautiful experience!

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Penny Sadler October 16, 2017 at 1:18 pm

thank you! It’s so nice when a reader connects with you. the best!

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Dario October 16, 2017 at 5:16 am

It looks incredible! Never heard of it but if one day I go that part of France I will totally visit this roman heritage. It amaze me how in that time they had the vision and ambitions to build things like this that even to our days they stand with all the glory untouched. Great spot to visit and good job with the article!

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Penny Sadler October 16, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Thanks Dario!

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Anneklien Meanne October 15, 2017 at 8:19 am

I was in South France last month and i did pay a visit in Pont Du Gard, such an amazing architectural desig, and a great place to spend a whole day hiking around the area or just photographing the beautiful bridge in every angle!

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Penny Sadler October 16, 2017 at 1:17 pm

I would love to go back with more time and kayak on the river.

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Medha Verma October 15, 2017 at 4:32 am

I agree with you, Romans were geniuses when it came to architecture! And we have several examples all over Europe to prove that 🙂 Pont du gard looks very pretty, just the kind of place I’d love to visit. Thanks for sharing.

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Penny Sadler October 16, 2017 at 1:16 pm

thanks!

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anto October 14, 2017 at 11:51 pm

True, the Romans are definitely the best architects in the world. Each time I see one or more of their buildings I can’t help but think ‘HOW?’ without modern tools … I had never heard of Pont du Gard before but it looks truly beautiful!

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Penny Sadler October 16, 2017 at 1:16 pm

I know right!

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Meagan October 14, 2017 at 7:47 pm

We very much wanted to get to the Pont du Gard while in southern France, but our trip was just way too short and we ended up spending more time in Avignon (agree with you on how lovely it is!) than we anticipated – c’est la vie, eh? I love architecture like this, and your writeup of the history makes it an even more alluring place to visit, imho. Thank for the serious inspo – now I need to go look at flights again 🙂

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Penny Sadler October 14, 2017 at 7:56 pm

Thanks for the lovely comment!

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Mahi July 14, 2017 at 7:48 am

Beautiful Pont du Gard, great to see this monument.

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Penny Sadler July 15, 2017 at 10:23 pm

It is incredible.

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Sand In My Suitcase July 9, 2017 at 2:45 pm

The Pont Du Gard looks like a very impressive monument indeed! We’d love to visit Provence and southern France — one day hopefully :-).

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Penny Sadler July 9, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Ask, and you shall receive!

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Aleah | SolitaryWanderer June 8, 2017 at 4:38 pm

The Romans were definitely everywhere, leaving their marks on places they visited (conquered?) haha Wish I can go there someday. I’m a huge fan of Roman architecture!

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Penny Sadler June 8, 2017 at 11:45 pm

Hey Aleah, You’ll go. I know you. And you’ll love it.

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Agness of Fit Travelling May 27, 2017 at 5:56 am

The Pont du Gar seems stunning, Penny! Your post is so motivational that I really hope to get there as soon as possible.

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Penny Sadler May 27, 2017 at 8:53 am

Thanks Agness. Let me know if you go. I’d love to hear how it affected you.

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Tom Bentley May 14, 2017 at 2:21 pm

As I used to say in eighth grade, that’s bitchin’! Such a striking example of symmetry in architecture (with emphasis on the “arch.”) Beautiful shots and nice story, Penny

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Penny Sadler May 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Hey Bentley, Bitchin’ is one of my favorite words

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Suze May 11, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Despite having lived in France for over 10 years ago some years previously, I never made it to the Pont du Gard. It’s so impressive that I wish I had! Friends of mine went kayaking there, that must be fun

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Penny Sadler May 11, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Let’s go!

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Nathan May 9, 2017 at 7:59 am

Your photos are gorgeous! I’ve never visited France. Everyone wants to go to Paris but I want to visit the south of France. Your photos make me want to go even more.

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Mike Cotton May 8, 2017 at 5:05 am

The Pont du Gard would definitely be on my photograph wishlist if I found myself in this part of France. A beautiful example of Roman architecture and one that is set in a great part of France.

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Penny Sadler May 9, 2017 at 10:00 am

It is a lovely area. I want to go back.

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Darlene May 8, 2017 at 3:15 am

Wow I didnt realize that it’s quite big. It reminds me of the ancient aqueducts. It’s definitely a must see esp for photographers and history buffs. I bet it would look really nice in the golden hours.

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Penny Sadler May 9, 2017 at 9:59 am

Hi Darlene, It is a bridge AND and aqueduct. The aqueduct runs across the top of course, though no longer in use.

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Rhonda Albom May 8, 2017 at 2:34 am

Wow, that’s very impressive. We saw the Roman aqueduct of Segovia in Spain a few years back. What I found to be the most incredible part was that no mortar was used. Is it the same with Pont du Gard?

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Penny Sadler May 9, 2017 at 9:59 am

Rhonda, yes, the same. Amazing isn’t it.

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Divyakshi Gupta May 7, 2017 at 1:23 pm

Whoa. Love history and absolutely a sucker for architecture. The pont du gard looks majestic in its own stature with a very interesting history! Thanks for sharing this gem 🙂

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Marcus and Mel May 7, 2017 at 3:01 am

What an amazing structure and it’s incredible to think it was built 2000 years ago and it’s still standing. I should show it to some of our local builders.

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Penny Sadler May 7, 2017 at 10:49 am

haha! yes indeed. It’s hard to think that this is still standing and many bridges built in the past 100 years are collapsing.

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Siddhartha Joshi May 7, 2017 at 1:04 am

This was unbelievable! Pont du Gard is 2000 years old and still intact…I love it! Adding this to my list…

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Megan Indoe May 6, 2017 at 10:24 pm

Wow what an impressive structure! Had I only seen a photo I would have guessed this was in Rome! It’s such an interesting spot for photography too!

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Penny Sadler May 6, 2017 at 11:29 pm

It is beyond description. I found it to be a very spiritual place. And yes, great for photography, art, anything creative.

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Ben May 7, 2017 at 12:47 am

Right? I too would have guessed it’s in Rome. One of the bridges in Florence looks similar. Not as big but it definitely has some similarities.

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