It is an undeniable fact that the ancient Romans were brilliant empire builders. In the days before mass communication and fast, reliable transport the Romans were able to both conquer and hold their vast empire by generally improving the lives of their subjects through a series of massive public building projects.
One of these projects was built in Gaul, which today we call France. Realising there was a need to transport fresh water to their settlements in the south of Gaul, the Romans set about building the impressive Nimes aqueduct, a 50 kilometre-long (31 mile) structure built by the Romans to carry water from a spring at Uzes to the colony of Nemausus, which is now known as Nimes.
This was not simple project, but a complicated engineering feat which involved building tunnels for most of its length, for it was more efficient for water to flow underground. However, one of the major problems was to find a way to cross the gorge of the Gardon River, so the decision was made to build an aqueduct bridge.
The resulting bridge, we today is called the Pont du Gard, or Bridge of the Gard, is one of the most important pieces of Roman engineering still remaining.
Work began in the 1st Century, and it statistics are quite amazing. The Pont du Gard was the highest of all aqueduct bridges that were built by the Romans. The bridge consists of three tiers of arches which achieve a height of 48 metres (160ft). The bridge has a length of 274m (899ft), and so precise is the engineering that is descends by a mere 2.5cm, or about one inch over that length.
The water carried through the aqueduct and over the bridge was used to feed the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. The construction was so good that water flowed continuously for a couple of centuries, but poor maintenance after the 4th Century A.D. saw the aqueduct fall into decline.
The bridge itself is one of the best preserved from the Roman era and its historic importance was considered so important that the Pont du Gard was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1985.
It has long been one of France’s most popular attractions, and a new visitor centre was built in 2000 to cater for the vast number of visitors, and also to improve the experience of those who do visit.
The fact that the bridge has remained virtually intact for two thousand years is a perfect testament to the magnificent way in which the Romans were able preserve and rule their empire for so many centuries.