The area of Provence in France is full of amazing Roman-era architecture. In fact, Provence is so-called because of its name in Roman times, Provincia Romania, since it was Rome’s first province beyond the Alps.
Our first day trip, and our second famous bridge, from our base in Avignon was the Pont du Gard, one of the best preserved ancient Roman aquaeducts.
The Pont Du Gard was built by the Romans (but of course!) in the first century AD, and it was designed as part of a 50km system that took water from a spring in Uzes to Nîmes. I always thought an aquaeduct was a bridge like this, but the actual aquaeduct itself is the entire 50km long system that carried the water. Most of the piping for the system was underground or at ground level, but since the banks of the river slope down so drastically, they have to build an aquaeduct bridge up higher to keep the water moving. Over the entire span of the aquaeduct, the water descends by 12.6m (or 41ft), using gravity to move the water. The simple, yet effective engineering used to move water to their large cities is another impressive feat by the Romans!
There is a small, but interesting museum at the Pont du Gard that talks about Roman life, and the building of the aquaeduct. C let me walk through it while he took the boys to the kids’ area.
After we walked through the museum, we walked down to the bank of the river, and had a good time splashing in the cold water and watching the occasional kayaker paddle by.
I’ve heard it can be quite busy during the summer, and the river is jam-packed with people, but when we were there, in the middle of the week in late October, it wasn’t crowded at all.
After spending time at the river, we walked back across the bridge to get back to our car, and marveled at how sturdy and strong this 2,000 year old structure still is. I suspect this sturdy bridge will last way beyond the time my 1990’s house back in the U.S. has crumbled down to nothing.
Our second Roman-themed day trip from Avignon was to the hometown of jeans. Where do jeans come from? From Nîmes = De Nîmes = Denim. For real. Anyway, we weren’t there for the jeans, we were there for all things Roman.
We parked our car in an underground parking ramp in Nîmes, took the stairs up to the ground level, turned a corner and spotted this:
The Arene de Nîmes. Nîmes was an important colony in Roman days, and this amphitheater was built around 70AD, and over the last almost 2,000 years, has seen many gladiator battles, bull fights, modern music festivals and all types of events. This arena has seen it all! It is considered the best preserved of all Roman-era amphitheaters.
Sometimes, it is easy to lose that sense of wonder when you see monument after monument, however, going into this arena and walking where Roman citizens once walked so long ago was indescribable.
We made it down to the arena floor and walked in those gladiator footsteps.
We learned that it was actually very rare for gladiators to die in battle. They were very expensive to train, and if a gladiator was killed in a fight, compensation was due to his training school for costs incurred in training him.
After touring the arena, we grabbed a quick lunch at a cafe with a great view of the arena.
Our next sight on our whistle-stop tour of Roman-era Nîmes was the Maison Carrée. This temple was once located in a Roman square.
In addition to being one of the best-preserved Roman temples, dating back to around 2 AD, it is also currently home to a fascinating film “Nemausus, The Founding of Nîmes”. The film goes from before the Romans arrived, through the time the temple was built and dedicated, following a prestigious local family. It was pretty fascinating, and really brought the Roman era alive for us – so fascinating with all the ruins we had seen in the last few months traveling through Europe. Though was in French, it has English subtitles, and even N seemed enthralled with the story, even though he couldn’t read the subtitles.
That’s it from Provence and a few of its amazing Roman-era ruins. We will now be saying Au Revoir to France and ¡Hola! to Spain. Stay Tuned….