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Day 3: Provence in Ruins

July 18, 2013

The Pont Du Gard. Still standing.

Provence takes its name from the Romans—this area was literally a “Roman Province.” It was established primarily as a retirement community for Roman soldiers. For some reason, Emperor Augustus didn’t want a large group of relatively young, well-trained idle soldiers hanging about the capital. So he sent them here. Augustus was clearly on to something—if President Obama sent me here to retire, I would gladly take him up on it.

As a result, Roman ruins are a frequent sight throughout this area, primarily in places like Arles, Orange and Nimes. Arguably the most impressive is the Pont Du Gard (photo above). A perfectly preserved Roman aqueduct built around 19 B.C., it was an important link of a 30 mile canal that, by dropping one inch every 350 feet, supplied nine million gallons of water per day to Nimes.

The fact that something like this was constructed 2000 years ago and still stands is a testament to what the Romans were able to accomplish with fine engineering, patience, and thousands of slave laborers. The bridge was put to the test in 2002 during a period of torrential rains and intense flooding. Would the bridge be able to withstand the flooding? The Roman engineers had designed buttresses at the base of the bridge to divert floodwaters away from the feet of the arches. To everyone’s astonishment, the buttresses worked and the bridge held its ground. By contrast, my oil tank lasted three decades.

When you visit the Pont Du Gard today, you can walk across it, swim beneath it, follow countless hiking trails on both the right and left bank to appreciate its beauty and majesty from a number of perspectives. No matter how you look at it, you can’t help but be awestruck at its beauty and longevity. In New England, a building that remains from the 18th century impresses us. Here, not so much.

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