After our morning tour of the Palace of the Popes and Les Halles in Avignon on day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to the ship for lunch before our next excursion. Our new friend, Laura, joined us and we discussed our plans for the afternoon. Laura had chosen an optional Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tour and Tasting. We had considered it but being Roman history junkies, we opted instead for the excursion to Pont du Gard. I asked Laura to pick up a bottle of wine for us to share at dinner that evening so that we wouldn’t entirely miss out on tasting this celebrated wine.
Following lunch, we boarded our motor coach for the half-hour ride to Pont du Gard. We especially enjoyed seeing the vineyards from the bus and wondered whether any of the grapes we saw were used for Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine.
Built by the Romans over 2000 years ago, the Nimes Aqueduct carried 5 million gallons of fresh water each day from the springs of Uzes to the Roman outpost of Nimes, 31 miles away. The actual distance is somewhat less but the uneven terrain necessitated a longer winding route. The engineering requirements amazed me. Obviously, the aqueduct transported the water downhill using gravity to get it to flow but Nimes is just 55 feet lower than the water source. Consequently, the slope of the aqueduct was just 25 inches per mile. Much of the aqueduct ran underground or at ground level but the magnificent Pont du Gard was built to cross the Gardon River and stands today at 50 meters (164 ft.) as the tallest aqueduct built by the Romans. The three-level bridge was built of locally quarried limestone and according to our guide, constructed without the use of mortar. The official website of Pont du Gard, however, says, “The highest part of the structure is made out of breeze blocks joined together with mortar,” so I believe mortar was used on the uppermost level in the water channel to waterproof it.
Although use of the aqueduct to transport water ceased by the 6th century, it continued to function as a bridge for carts and pedestrians to cross the Gardon River. By the 18th century, a road designed by Henri Pitot was incorporated into the second level and motorized traffic was allowed until 1997. In 1985, Pont du Gard was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today the bridge is used strictly for pedestrian traffic. For those who are particularly adventurous, you can also take a guided tour of the third tier for an extra fee. We did not.
After our guide led us to the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard while telling us about the construction and history, we had free time to explore on our own. Well-marked paths on both the right bank and left bank of the river enable visitors to wander, explore, and picnic in the Garrigue, as the wooded scrubland surrounding Pont du Gard is called. Swimming, canoeing, and kayaking are allowed in the river but it was a little late in the season to see anyone engaged in those activities.
We followed the path on the right bank (rive droite) and clambered first down to the river level where I found my favorite view for photographs.
Then we climbed up the trail to see Pont du Gard from the hillside and explore some of the Garrigue. We also found the perfect spot to take Jim’s picture holding up his Iowa State flag. The athletic department has a social media contest to pick a fan photo each week to post on their Facebook page. Our photo won.
The top level of Pont du Gard was not open but we did get a selfie of us underneath it.
This excursion was worth every penny of the $59 we paid for it. And when we returned to the ship, Laura brought an excellent bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape to celebrate a day well-spent.
Based on events from November 2016.