Pont du Gard & Arles

October 21, 2022

Avignon, Provence, France

Yesterday my cousins Sidney, Sonya and I visited the Pont du Gard and the city of Arles.

Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct built in the first century AD to carry water to the city of Nimes, about 20 miles away as a crow flies but 50 miles away as built, from the Gardon River. It has three tiers of arches and is 161 feet high and 899 feet long. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it remained of use as a toll bridge so continued to be maintained (unlike many other Roman structures, which were looted for materials). Protruding blocks on the arches were used to hold scaffolding in place which supported the bridge as it was being built. To put the largest stones into place human treadmills were used! The bridge was probably built between 40-60 AD and took about 15-20 years to build using 800-1000 workers. Much of the aqueduct was built underground and other parts of it exist but are not well preserved.

The aqueduct is amazing to see, beautiful and massive across the Gardon River. We walked across the ancient stones and admires the view of the countryside and the ancient construction.

After walking around on either side of the Pont du Gard we drove on to Arles which is another former Roman city, with an amphitheater (Arenes d’Arles) which is still in use today, and an ancient theatre which is also used for plays.

The Arenes was built slightly after the one in Rome and was used for four centuries for gladiators and hunting scenes. It’s 446 feet long, 358 feet wide and has 120 arches. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was transformed into a fortress with four towers and a city was placed inside with more than 200 houses, a public square and two chapels which continued till the late 18th century. In the early 19th century, the drive to change it to a historical monument began, with some work ongoing.

We really enjoyed walking around the Arenes, which had a great view of the Rhone River from the top of the towers. The arches were also beautiful. Today it’s used for French bullfights where the bulls are not killed and are smaller and more agile than their Spanish counterparts.

The old theater (Theatre Antique d’Arles) is quite near the Arenes, and at his zenith could see 8000 spectators. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was looted and used as a quarry and only the stage, two columns, the seating area and the orchestra area survive. Nonetheless it is still used today.

Everywhere we went in Arles, and at the Pont du Gard, there were dozens of school children on field trips. They were full of energy for sure!

After viewing the ancient monuments, we wandered through the old town, full of quaint shops, picturesque buildings and of course, narrow streets.

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