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An Aqueduct Spanning the Centuries / Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct)
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The River Gard runs through long deep valleys of Southern France and reaches a giant bridge crossing the river.
It is an aqueduct built during Roman times about 2000 years ago.
It is known as Pont du Gard, meaning the bridge over the Gard River.
The aqueduct consists of 3 separate tiers and rows of smaller arches created in beautiful geometric form. This gigantic bridge stretches 275 metres in length and rises 49 metres in height.
Stunned by such an amazing feat of engineering, the 19th century poet Mistral said that the aqueduct was the product of a demon built overnight.
The bottom layer is used as a pedestrian road. Many merchants and travellers heading towards the Mediterranean sea travelled through here.
The water channel was placed on top of the bridge.
Even though channel is only wide enough for one person to stand up in, about 20,000 kilolitres of water ran through here every day.
Inside the channel is a 40 centimetre thick wall of accumulated calcium carbonate just like one can see on the walls of underground caves.
Why was such a huge bridge required?
Pont du Gard was constructed to transport water from Uzes in the north to Nimes in the south.
Uzes had an abundant supply of fresh mountain spring water.
Nimes was the final destination for the aqueduct and a large city at the time. However, as the population grew, water resources became scarce and a sustainable water supply was sought to maintain their public facilities and bathhouses.
The difference in altitude between these two cities was only 12 metres and in order to avoid natural obstacles the aqueduct needed to be 50 kilometres long.
In order to transport the water across the river, the bridge had to be 49 metres tall.
An expert from CNRS (Centre National de La Recherche Scientifique) who specializes in Roman aqueducts explains.
The 3-storey arch structure is a clever approach to retain the strength while using fewer building materials.
And this structure also has another notable feature.
Each arch is made exactly the same size with stone-bricks shaped to the same size and laid without leaving a gap.
This means, that this bridge was constructed using a mass-production technique.
Pont du Gard was, in a way, the first-ever pre-fab architecture. The same sized materials were made and shaped in mass production and the construction was made in a very short period according to a building plan. It was the most effective method from both an economic and time-cutting perspective.
Using this method this gigantic bridge was completed in only 5 years. This is a living testimony to Roman building techniques and has survived through numerous floodings in the past. However, according to the research the bridge is tilting a few millimetres each year and is under increasing threat. If nothing is done, the bridge could collapse in another 2000 years.
In order to retain this magnificent feat of engineering, we need to protect this heritage using modern techniques.
A dialogue between the past and future is about to begin.
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