The Aqueduct of Nimes

For many years, The Chain Gang have been regular visitors to the Pont du Gard, the spectacular Roman aqueduct near Uzes in the Languedoc. But, in 2018 we decided to design a new tour of the Languedoc, so inevitably the Pont du Gard became part of our Languedoc tour.

Map showing the Aqueduc de Nimes.

Map showing the Aqueduc de Nimes.

I’ve always known that the Pont du Gard was part of a scheme to carry drinking water to Nimes, but frankly they were just words on a page. Now that we spend a bit more time exploring the culture and history the Languedoc, I’ve learned a bit more about the story behind the ‘Aqueduct of Nimes’, and it’s a wonderful story. Please ‘click’ on any image to enlarge.

 

 

 

The Fountaine de Nimes, in its beautiful park.

The Fountaine de Nimes, in its beautiful park.

The Romans began settling Nimes in about 24 BC, and the water source for the town was a natural resurgent spring, the Fountain de Nimes. You can still see these springs today, and we visit the formal gardens and sculptures that have been built around it.

As Nimes grew, the Fountaine de Nimes was insufficient for the town, and so work begun on a 50Km aqueduct to bring water from the garrigues to the North of Nimes. It’s hard to take water over such distances – there is easier water nearer, but it didn’t flow all-year-round. There is more water available from other sources, but it required even more difficult engineering. The eventual solution was to take water from a source just outside Uzes, the Fountaine de l’Eure.

Sluice gate at Fountain de l'Eure.

Sluice gate at Fountain de l’Eure.

Again, you can still see these workings today, these ancient Roman water works. They’re only about 1 Km from Uzes, and The Chain Gang has never been aware of them before. Well, we are now, and they’re a complicated business. Water arrives from the River Alzon and what we can see are the collection tanks – the two that still remain. The flow into the aqueduct is controlled by sluice gates, with any overflow diverted back into the Alzon. Unbelievably, because sediment and mineral deposit is so low in this water source, you can still see the original Roman opus signinum used to line the tanks – a building material made of crushed tiles and mortar.

The route from the Fountaine de l’Eure is by no means a straight line! In its 50 km length the aqueduct falls just 17 metres. The flow had to be strong enough to avoid stagnation, but slow enough to avoid damage through erosion and water pressure. And yet, this aqueduct carried 20,000 cubic metres per day to Nimes. You can read more detail here.

Pont du GardYou can see the water course and many small aqueducts along the course of the aqueduct de Nimes, but nothing even remotely on the scale of the huge Pont du Gard – this was the main obstacle that faced the Roman engineers, how to cross the valley of the River Gardon. Let the photos speak for themselves.

 

 

castellum © Office de Tourisme de NîmesFrom the Pont du Gard, the aqueduct runs basically southwest into Nimes. When they get there, they arrive at the ingenious Castellum. This is seriously rare – the only other surviving example in this sort of condition is in Pompeii. The water arrives into a circular distribution chamber almost 20 feet across. From here it was distributed to fountains, baths, and private houses via a series of lead pipes. You can see the outlets as clear as day. The Castellum is clearly visible, just off a small road in the north of modern Nimes.

So that’s the story of the wonderful aqueduct of Nimes, and we’ll see the whole story – some of it in reverse – on
Day 6 and Day 7 of our Languedoc tour.

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