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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: