Before I say too much about the excursion to the Pont du Gard et Nîmes, I want to say a little something about the content of my blog. In the post “The Same but Different,” I made a lot of statements about how my life in France is different that my life in the US. Please remember that France is as diverse as the United States and not everything I say is true for all of France. I can only present my one perspective on my life with one family in one city in one region of France. By no means is this meant to be representative of an entire country or of an entire people.
On that note, let’s move on to the Pont du Gard.
The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that traverses the Gard River. It brought water to the people of Nîmes from its source in Uzes. Once the water arrived in Nîmes, the wealthy were able to divert the water into their homes for private baths. This was possible through the use of a system of pipes and pumps. This was done in the 3rd century CE!
In addition to their plumbing, the building of the actual aqueduct/bridge was a major feat of engineering. It was the highest aqueduct bridge in the Roman Empire and is one of the best maintained. Although the most famous point of this aqueduct is the Pont du Gard, over 90% of the entire structure is found underground. The system is made of a soft limestone from a nearby quarry and relies solely on its own weight in the arches to stay together. That is to say, there’s no mortar holding the main supporting stones together. It’s amazing how to maintain this bridge, crews have to use modern technology like cranes and power tools. However, when it was built, everything was carried by hand or Donkey.
The short visit to the Pont du Gard was beautiful, but very cold, and very windy. So after taking a few pictures, I think all of us were glad to get back onto the bus and head over to Nîmes.
Nîmes is one of the oldest cities in France at dating back to the 2nd century BCE. The original inhabitants were the Gaulois but they became a colony of Rome during the Roman conquests just before the birth of Jesus. Under the Galois’ religion, the god of the spring that provided their city with fresh water was called Nemausus. Because of the importance of the spring to the city, the colony became known as the colony of Nemausaus. However, Nemausus was not a Roman god and this city was now part of the Roman empire. So, like so many things the Romans did, they allowed the Galois to keep their religion but co-opted their gods and gave them Roman names. Nemausus became Nemausios and eventually the city just became Nîmes.
Vestiges of Roman influences are present throughout the city. Les Arènes, Mainson Carrée, and Jardin de la Fontaine are the remains of Roman colonialism. Les Arène is a stadium that used to house gladiator battles. While the Colosseum in Rome brought in exotic animals like tigers and lions for their entertainment, the nobles of Nîmes did not have as much money, so they fought local beasts. Because the Roman rulers wanted to make sure they were keeping a happy population, all the events at Les Arènes were free to the public. However, there were different sections designated by your social class. Despite the size of Les Arènes, the entire amphitheater could be cleared out in about 18 minutes. Today, Les Arènes is still used to entertain the people of Nîmes through concerts, bullfights, and historical reenactments of gladiator fights!
The Maison Carrée is one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world. It was built under the rule of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and was dedicated to his two sons, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar whose names can be read on the front of the building (actually, they were restoring that area so we didn’t get to see the inscription, but the guide said they were there). In French, the word “carrée” means “square.” This is most decidedly not a square building. Back when it was built there was no distinction between rectangle and square. After the word for rectangle was smithed, the building already had a name.
Last on the guided tour was Le Jardin de la Fontaine. This used to be the downtown of Ancient Nîmes because of its proximity to the spring that sustained the city. It was a sacred place because it was thought to be the dwelling place of Nemausus.
This is the Temple of Diane, or at least that’s what historians used to think it was. Modern scholars now think it was a religious library because of its placement relative to the other buildings in the area. The Romans tended to have a standard layout when they developed areas. Also, there seem to be shelves on the interior. However, like the Maison Carrée, by the time the new name came to be, the old one had already stuck.
…and more pictures of Nîmes.
This fountain symbolizes the history of Nîmes.