The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts, and, along with the Aqueduct of Segovia, one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.
The aqueduct bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometre system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus. Because of the uneven terrain between the two points, the mostly underground aqueduct followed a long, winding route that called for a bridge across the gorge of the Gardon River.
The bridge has three tiers of arches, stands 48.8 m high, and descends a mere 2.5 centimetres – a gradient of only 1 in 18,241 – while the whole aqueduct descends in height by only 17 m over its entire length, which is indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve, using simple technology. The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 200,000 m3 of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It may have been in use as late as the 6th century, with some parts used for significantly longer, but a lack of maintenance after the 4th century led to clogging by mineral deposits and debris that eventually choked off the flow of water.
After the Roman Empire collapsed and the aqueduct fell into disuse, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact, due to the importance of its secondary function, as a toll bridge. For centuries the local lords and bishops were responsible for its upkeep, in exchange for the right to levy tolls on travellers using it to cross the river, although some of its stones were looted and serious damage was inflicted on it in the 17th century. It attracted increasing attention starting in the 18th century, and became an important tourist destination.
It underwent a series of renovations between the 18th and 21st centuries, commissioned by the local authorities and the French state, that culminated in 2000 with the opening of a new visitor centre and the removal of traffic and buildings from the bridge and the area immediately around it. Today it is one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, and has attracted the attention of a succession of literary and artistic visitors.
The Pont du Gard site – with its historic monuments, its 165 hectares of protected land, its numerous attractions – has been managed since 2003 by an Etablissement Public de Coopération Culturelle (Public Association of Cultural Cooperation) as an industrial and commercial project.
Legislation permitting the creation of an EPCC was introduced on September 11th, 2002. This new form of management allows for the formation of a partnership by bringing together the various stakeholders engaged in managing an economically important project for a region, such as the Pont du Gard.
ONE OF THE FIRST EPCC ASSOCIATIONS IN FRANCE
The Pont du Gard EPCC is one of the first to be inaugurated in France. It is also one of the biggest in terms of its governing body. It confers upon the Pont du Gard site an economic and social status equivalent to the Louvre (“Établissement public du Grand Louvre”) and Versailles (“Établissement public du musée et du domaine national de Versailles”).
Its governing body comprises 25 members, bringing together representatives from the General Council of the Gard, the Regional Council of the Languedoc-Roussillon, the government, and mayors of the communities on which the site is found (Castillon du Gard, Remoulins and Vers Pont du Gard). Experts and staff representatives are also included.