The secret Roman aqueduct

Just a short walk away from a world-famous bridge in southern France lies an evocative 2,000-year old Roman aqueduct… that nobody seems to know about.

A surprising number of people never make it past the first viewpoint. We watched them: all smiles for the camera, a quick check of the screen, then scurrying back towards the souvenir shop and car park with Nîmes, Arles or Avignon already on their minds.

With four kids and a dog, our sightseeing is conducted at an entirely different pace. We pressed on, slowly but purposefully. It was busy, yes, but crowds are bearable when you know where you are going, when you know you will escape soon.

We had a plan.

The throngs of tourists were at their peak as we reached the opposite side of the bridge, where the path curves to the right towards the second visitor centre and car park. It was time to put our plan into action: we walked another 100 metres, then turned left.

In an instant, the crowds disappeared behind us.

As we climbed away from the river, the murmur of the tourist masses and the incessant clicking of cameras gave way to more peaceful sounds: birds singing, crickets chirping, and the rhythmic crunch of our hiking boots on the stony paths.

Because we knew that the Pont du Gard is not the only Roman aqueduct in these parts… we were on the search for the Pont Roupt.

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The Pont Roupt

A short history

2,000 years ago, Nemausus (now Nîmes) in southern France was a prosperous city and an important outpost of the Roman Empire. Within the six-kilometre length of its city walls it boasted graceful temples, stately houses and plans for a monumental arena based on the Colosseum in Rome.

However, Nemausus had a big problem: water. A spring located inside the city walls was insufficient to serve the growing city and the Romans’ new fad of taking baths. Therefore an ambitious (to say the least) plan was concocted to bring water to Nemausus from a source near Uzès, 25 kilometres away. This project resulted in the building of a super-aqueduct – fifty kilometres long – of which the most spectacular and best preserved part is what all the tourists had come to see: the truly mind-blowing Pont du Gard.

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Surely one of the most famous – and beautiful – bridges in the world?

However, other vestiges of this mammoth feat of Roman engineering can still be seen in various locations between Nîmes and Uzès. Of these, the Pont Roupt (“Interrupted bridge” in the local Occitan language) is arguably the most evocative and romantic. Stretching for over 300 metres (longer even than the existing structure of the Pont du Gard), its numerous arches are in various states of quaint disrepair; some still stand strong against the ravages of time but most have been supported by emergency restoration work, others blocked up, and many have collapsed completely.

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Child #1 at the Pont Roupt. Note the restoration work and blocked arch immediately behind him.

Being close to the Pont Roupt immediately evokes a sense of fragility, authenticity and antiquity that the seemingly immortal Pont du Gard completely lacks. Despite being located barely two hundred metres away from one of the huge visitor car parks, the Pont Roupt is staggeringly obscure. At the time of writing, it has no Wikipedia page dedicated to it (not even in French) and precisely zero Trip Advisor “reviews”, an almost incomprehensible tourist ignorance for something of this size and historical importance in internet-fuelled 2016, particularly when you consider its proximity to the Pont du Gard.

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The Pont Roupt: impossibly ancient, incredibly evocative… and rarely visited

After having strolled along the Pont Roupt’s entire length (twice) we were all getting a bit hungry and thirsty, so we picnicked in the fascinating “Mémoires de Garrigue”, a park illustrating the history of Mediterranean agriculture and flora. Despite being much more heavily “marketed” than the Pont Roupt this, too, was largely empty and we ate our lunch in serenity under the shade of the mulberry and holly oak trees.


Return to the Pont du Gard

And then… it was back to bedlam. If anything, the tourist hordes at the Pont du Gard had intensified and the walk back over the venerable old bridge was even slower than before. But our day hadn’t finished yet: it would, after all,  be crazy to visit here and not appreciate the UNESCO-listed bridge / aqueduct in all its glory, and we figured that the best way to do this would be from the river that it straddles so gracefully.

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Even Oonagh the sheepdog enjoyed her day out at the Roman aqueducts

The Gardon felt cool and refreshing after our hot and dusty hike. The kids loved splashing out to a large rectangular rock in the middle of the river and sitting there, feet dangling in the water, watching the kayaks drift past. Then I noticed that the “rock” was a little TOO rectangular to be natural; closer observation confirmed it was approximately the same size and shape as the massive stones used in the construction of the Pont du Gard itself. Quite how it ended up 150 metres downstream of its intended target has probably been a mystery for the past 2,000 years, and will remain a mystery for many thousands of years to come.

It would appear that this corner of France is still full of secrets.

Daisy the bus visited the Pont Roupt and Pont du Gard in August 2016.

(c) 2016 Jonathan Orr

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR VISITING THE PONT DU GARD AND PONT ROUPT

  • There are two official car parks at the Pont du Gard. The Rive gauche is larger and closer to the Pont Roupt and the main “tourist facilities”. The Rive droite – where we parked – is handier if you wish to go to the “beach”.
  • It costs an eye-watering €18 to park in either car park. However, this includes access to the site for up to five people (kids seem to be free). If you park elsewhere you may be asked for a pedestrian entrance fee of €7 per person (2016 prices).
  • The Pont Roupt is situated a few hundred metres north-west of the Rive gauche car park and due north(ish) of the Pont du Gard itself. Or, basically just walk in the opposite direction to the crowds and you’ll find it.
  • There is a very useful fresh water tap near the southern entrance to the “Mémoires de Garrigue” park. Use it: it gets VERY hot at the Pont du Gard in summer.
  • The water quality of the river is excellent (for swimming, not drinking obviously). The river bed is stony; water sandals / shoes are recommended but not essential.

I’m linking this post to a few travel blog “link-ups”, all of which are full of interesting tales from the road. Please go check them out:

the Pigeon Pair and Me
Travel Notes & Beyond

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Author: daisythebus

Father-of-four based in Luxembourg. I write about "off the beaten track" travel adventures with my family. Expect to read about nature, outdoor activities, the arts, authenticity, and alternative ways of discovering the world around us.

48 thoughts on “The secret Roman aqueduct”

  1. I have to admit, I’m one of those people that didn’t get past the Pont du Gard! Will have to check this out next time I’m in the area.

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  2. As always, your photos are very evocative and the article gives a great sense of what it would be like to visit. We share your appreciation for these “secret” places that exist almost everywhere in France (even in little-known corners of Paris) — it’s one of the things we love most about the country. Thanks for writing about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an amazing find, and how incredible that it’s so unknown, not even a few words on wikipedia (maybe you should write it up!) But then I like that there are still places that aren’t googleable and that only locals know about. We love house swapping for that reason (and love giving out little bits of insider knowledge to the guests in our gite too!) Bizarrely I’ve never been to the Pont du Gard despite living relatively pretty close, so when I do finally get there I’ll be sure to head away from the crowds and find this special place. Thanks for sharing it with #AllAboutFrance

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  4. Another fascinating post – thanks for enlightening me. I love the idea of leaving the crowds behind to make your own discovery. I must admit I would rather have missed the Pont du Gard than battle with tourists to see it, so now I know I can quench both my thirst for natural surroundings and ancient history at the same time if I turn left and go to the Pont Roupt. #AllAboutFrance

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  5. Beautiful photos. Am glad to note that my parents are not alone in taking their children round various bridges and viaducts… #AllAboutFrance

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    1. You should definitely go to check it out. In fact, the Pont Roupt is only part of the story: there are remaining parts of this aqueduct littering the area around the Pont du Gard. If I had more time (and older kids) I would have explored further. Next time, I guess… Thanks for the comment, and for the RT!

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  6. How did you come across it? This sounds fabulous and I had no idea at all that it existed either – many years ago, I walked (briefly) on the Pont du Gard, which felt VERY high up and mildly terrifying but I can imagine how busy it must get in the summer especially. How fabulous to have something so unexplored nearby. #culturedkids

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    1. Good question! We were on a “home exchange” with a family from Nimes. On their coffee table, they had kindly left us a selection of tourist information and magazine articles about the local region. In one of the magazines, I saw a photo and short description of the Pont Roupt; I was captivated, and did some internet research to find its location (which was trickier than expected!). When I saw that it was so close to the Pont du Gard, we decided there and then that we’d have a big day out aqueduct-hunting. ;o) Slightly jealous that you walked on the upper level of the Pont du Gard; when we visited, the upper level was by guided tour only and we didn’t enquire further due to the crowds and our younger kids. It must be a great experience! Thanks for reading.

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      1. One of the big bonuses of home swaps etc! I did wonder if they still let people walk on the top or if they had decided it was a bit risky. I was in my teens (about 14?) but wouldn’t fancy trying it with kids…

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  7. You do have a knack for seeking out hidden treasures! How fascinating, about the stone that was washed downstream. It must have been good to have the park almost all to yourself for your picnic – these attractions aren’t as much fun when it’s hot, dry and dusty! Thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids

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    1. It is indeed astonishing why one is so heavily “marketed” and the other basically ignored. My guess (and it really is just a guess) is that the local tourist authorities don’t wish to publicise the Pont Roupt due to its fragile condition; if EVERYONE visiting the Pont du Gard also visited the Pont Roupt, the resulting erosion and damage would likely be catastrophic. So, stopping short of making it out of bounds completely, they simply choose to not mention it at all. In this way, those motivated enough will still seek it out. That’s my theory anyway… Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have Pont Du Gard on my list as we are heading that way next month but had not heard of Pont Roupt…thanks for the info will add it and bookmark your post for future reference

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  9. Love Daisy and your family! Your photos remind me of many of my family’s travels when all children were much younger. I only started my blog 12mths ago and my children are now 20, 18 and 13 so I love feeling the vibe of your family’s travels come through your photos.
    I have saved this secret spot for my next trip; how wonderful to really get to appreciate an area. Thanks for this share… Annette #theweeklypostcard

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    1. Thanks for the kind comments Annette, both here and on Instagram. This blog is also very new, but writing about our family travel adventures is something that I have half-heartedly been doing for years and years. I only created a “blog” to give me a focus, a reason for writing the whole story rather than a snippet here and a scribble there. I’m glad that others, like you, can enjoy it as well!
      And yes, you really should get down to Gard, walk away from the crowds and explore this magical forgotten aqueduct – a real find!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, how cool this wonderful post made Phoebe of Lou Messugo’s #AllAboutFrance favourites list. I am delighted to share this honour with you this month… Annette of a french collection xx

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting post. I’ve been in the South of France so many times, but didn’t know anything about this Roman aqueduct. I would have liked to visit it.

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  11. Very interesting. So funny that so many people just took photos at the first stop. I feel like that happens at a lot of spots – people don’t really do the site justice. Here it is surprising after they pay that parking fee though, you would think they would want to get there money’s worth. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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    1. I guess it’s not up to me to say how people should spend their money (or time), but I’m guessing that the majority of tourists “just” taking a photo were on all-inclusive tours with a tight time schedule, i.e. they didn’t have to pay the €18 out-of-pocket. At least I hope so ;o) Thanks for reading and for #TheWeeklyPostcard link-up

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love Pont du Gard and floating in the cool, refreshing waters of the Gardon. I must admit, we didn’t have time for much exploring on our trip and have already made plans for a return trip with more exploration. I’ll certainly be adding Pont Roupt to my itinerary.

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    1. Thanks Jim. Apart from the Pont Roupt, there are plenty of other minor vestiges of the aqueduct remaining if you know where to look. The whole area around the Pont du Gard is ripe for further exploration – a truly fascinating place!

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  13. It’s bizarre that there’s no publicity for the Pont Roupt – so evocative: I love these ancient remnants of the old Roman Empire in their dusty, sunny olive groves, so atmospheric. I can hear the crickets chirping when I look at your pics. Mad that no one goes there! Looks like a perfect spot for some wine, cheese and crusty bread. I find the Pont du Gard really impressive but I’d be more satisfied with a find like this.

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    1. I definitely agree! And what makes this one particularly unusual is there are – literally – thousands of tourists passing within a few hundred metres of the Pont Roupt every single day, and yet very few of them seem to visit it. During our exploration of the Pont Roupt we encountered only four other people, and two of these were long-distance hikers. Thanks for reading!

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    1. Thanks Ruth. We were doing a “home exchange” with a family from Nimes. On their coffee table, they had kindly left us a selection of tourist information and magazine articles about the local region. In one of the magazines, I saw a photo and short description of the Pont Roupt; I was captivated, and did some internet research to find its location (which was trickier than expected!). It was a great find, and I genuinely do not know why it is not (much) better known!

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    1. Fascinating and utterly mind-blowing – the scale of the Uzès – Nîmes aqueduct is incredible even by modern standards, so the effort that would have been required to build this 2,000 years ago is almost beyond belief… Thanks for reading and for the #WanderfulWednesday linkup!

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  14. Really like your approach to sightseeing. I’m a big history fan and find aqueducts fascinating, so would love to see Pont Roupt as well. I actually believe I visited Pont du Gard as a child, it certainly looks very familiar. Will have to return 🙂 #WanderfulWednesday

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    1. Thanks. They are, of course, both worth a visit and since there really is less than a kilometre or so between them, both can easily be seen on the same day. There are also plenty of other “attractions” nearby, including several museums and exhibitions (which we did not visit). All in all, a good day out!

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    2. So glad I found this post again! I’m headed to Pont du Gard tomorrow and couldn’t find info or even the name for Pont Roupt anywhere! Will be using your tips tomorrow. Thanks again for sharing this!!!

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      1. How many hours would you recommend to allow? I’m going by bus from Nimes so I don’t have too much choice, but still worth knowing

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      2. That’s a tricky one – there is so much to see onsite. I would say at least three hours, maybe four. We spent longer – maybe five or six hours – but we really took our time, went swimming, had a picnic, and had young children in tow. Saying that, there is an entire visitor centre onsite that we did not visit AT ALL. There are also other vestiges of the aqueduct to the south of the Pont du Gard that we also didn’t try to track down. In other words, you probably could spend a whole day there if it interests you enough. Hope this helps!

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  15. That aqueduct is a gorgeously preserved structure. I remember hearing about this recently but now I can’t remember where it was. Looks like everyone had a great time on the adventure!!

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