Some 20km to the northeast of Nîmes is the Pont du Gard, the greatest surviving stretch of a 50km-long Roman aqueduct and a popular tourist destination

Built in the middle of the first century AD to supply fresh water to the city, and with just a 17m difference in altitude between start and finish, the Roman aqueduct north of Nîmes was quite an achievement, running as it does over hill and dale, through a tunnel, along the top of a wall, into trenches and over rivers; the Pont du Gard carries it over the River Gardon. Today the bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and something of a tourist trap, but is nonetheless a supreme piece of engineering and a brilliant combination of function and aesthetics; it made the impressionable Rousseau wish he’d been born Roman.

Three tiers of arches span the river, with the covered water conduit on the top rendered with a special plaster waterproofed with a paint apparently based on fig juice. A visit here used to be a must for French journeymen masons on their traditional tour of the country, and many of them have left their names and home towns carved on the stonework. Markings made by the original builders are still visible on individual stones in the arches.

The Pont du Gard features an extensive multimedia complex, the Site Pont du Gard, which includes a state-of-the-art museum, botanical gardens and a range of regular children’s activities. With the swimmable waters of the Gardon and ample picnic possibilities available, you could easily spend a day here.

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