Find the Romans in France

Ever since I first discovered the area round Arles I’ve hoped that one day this part of France will catch on with Classics teachers.

Rome in France
4:00AM Friday Nov 28, 2008
By Jim Eagles

If you want to see the world’s best preserved Roman amphitheatre, temple and aqueduct bridge then, surprisingly enough, you head not for Rome but for Provence.

Which is why, despite having been in Rome a few days earlier, we decided to take a Roman Sites Tour out of Avignon.

The focal point of the tour – and one of France’s top five tourist attractions – was the extraordinary 2000-year-old Pont du Gard.

This is a stone bridge, 275m long and 49m high, which carries both a roadway and an aqueduct across the River Gardon.

It is a remarkable piece of work, both magnificent to look at, with its three tiers of stone arches, and an exceptionally clever example of construction, having been built entirely without cement.

It is also, of course, part of one of the typically amazing pieces of infrastructure built by the Romans, an aqueduct 50km long to carry water from a spring near the town of Uzes to the city of Nimes.

Uzes, which our tour also visited, doesn’t have much Roman significance but it is a gloriously untouched medieval town and home to the premier dukes and hereditary champions of France. The ducal palace, in the centre of town, looks fascinating but sadly we couldn’t get inside because we hadn’t – in the words of the marvellously superior custodian – “made an appointment in advance”.

Nimes, on the other hand, is full of 2000-year-old Roman buildings still in remarkably good condition.

The amphitheatre, for instance, with its seating for 24,000 spectators, is still used regularly for concerts, in fact they were setting up the sound equipment for one as we wandered around.

And the temple built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and dedicated to his two sons, is still in good enough condition to be used for a remarkable multimedia presentation about the turbulent history of Nimes.

Seeing all of this I couldn’t help wondering how many of today’s bridges, watermains, sports stadiums and churches will still be going strong in 2000 years time.

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