An exceptional legacy
From the stature of its 2,000 year history, the Pont du Gard proudly looks down upon the winding Gardon valley. It stands as an incontrovertible testament to the might of the Roman empire and has survived relatively undamaged for centuries. Even today, one cannot gaze up at its breathtaking size and remarkable architecture without feeling a sense of awe. Equally noteworthy is how well it has stood the test of time.
A stone giant
It is estimated that the labour of a thousand men went into building the Pont du Gard. Over a 5 year period, they worked on building this tribute to the Roman empire’s greatness.
Why was the monument built ?
Today the Pont du Gard stands as a famous and prestigious Roman monument. However, it was built with a very specific practical purpose in mind: supplying water to the area. As a working aqueduct , it enabled a water channel to flow across the Gardon river. Conceived as the principal piece in a 50 km-long aqueduct, it helped supply water to the town of Nîmes, known as Nemausus in Roman times.
The aqueduct drew its source of water from Eure, near Uzès. The water was then carried up to the water tower (or castellum) in Nîmes. It disgorged 35,000 m³ of water every day
A remarkable aqueduct
20 km (as the crow flies) separate Uzès (originally Ucetia, Uzès) from Nîmes (known to the Romans as Nemausus). However, that direct route would have been impossible for the Romans to use for the aqueduct as it would have ran straight into the « Nîmes Garrigues ». The decision was made to divert the aqueduct along a 50 km route across gently sloping terrain.
Subterranean for 90 percent of its course, it is reinforced along the way by bridges, culverts, tunnels and a series of arches.
Crossing the Gardon river was the main challenge. This was overcome by constructing the Pont du Gard's three rows of arches. These tower almost 50 m (48,77 m) above the river itself.
The Pont du Gard, World Heritage Site
In 1985, the Pont du Gard was added to the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). Thus, the Pont du Gard became globally recognised for satisfying three main criteria.
It is :
- A masterpiece of human creative genius,
- A unique, exceptional example of Roman civilisation ,
- An outstanding example of a type of construction which combined architectural and technical skill : aqueducts, monuments to that significant period in the history of human existence – the Roman empire.
Becoming a World Heritage Site… some guidelines
According to the convention established in 1972, any site, whether of natural or cultural interest, must be of exceptional universal value to be added to the list of World Heritage Sites. The site must meet at least one of the ten selection criteria specified in the « Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention ». These rules are regularly reviewed by the World Heritage Committee and remain an invaluable tool for maintaining and improving the standards defining the term 'World Heritage Site'.
Until 2004, sites were selected on the basis of six cultural criteria and four natural criteria. Following a modification, the two lists were combined to create a single list of ten criteria
In June 2010, 187 countries had ratified the World Heritage Convention. As of July 2011, the World Heritage Site list contains 936 sites which are divided into 183 sites of natural interest, 725 sites of cultural interest and 28 sites that combine the two. 35 World Heritage Sites can be found in France.
Brief explanation of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The idea behind the World Heritage Convention arose following the First World War. At this time, there was a strong movement to protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage. The convention's implementation was the result of an increasing desire to preserve natural beauty and the urge to counteract the dangers facing many cultural sites.
Defending our cultural heritage
The question of safeguarding humanity’s treasures was first raised on the eve of the construction of the Aswan Dam. This Egyptian project represented a tour de force of engineering and design. The goal was to produce massive amounts of electricity for Egypt, but it was discovered that its construction would completely flood part of the Valley of the Kings, drowning many ancient remains including the two Abu Simbel temples.
These treasures of Egyptian civilisation would have faced destruction as a result of this project. The realisation of the very real dangers facing world heritage sites was enough to start a movement to safeguard them.
The authorities in Egypt and Sudan quickly responded by appealing to the international community in the hope of saving the site. UNESCO answered their call with a massive 80 million dollar campaign, half of it financed by over fifty different countries.
Over a period of several months, the main temples were disassembled, moved and then reassembled higher up the desert plains, safe from the prospective flood zone. This colossal task, achieved by scientists and technicians, coupled with the international effort involved, was successful in saving this part of Egypt’s legacy from destruction.
This event was enough to encourage UNESCO and ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) to prepare a convention designed to protect the world’s cultural heritage sites.
Preserving the world’s most beautiful natural spaces
In the spirit of this renewed state of awareness, several foundations came forward to suggest an international agreement for safeguarding the world’s « most extraordinary places, landscapes and historic sites » that have survived until today. This fresh approach to world heritage conservation was presented to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, in 1972. It was adopted by UNESCO a few months later.
The convention took into consideration concerns about preserving world heritage sites of cultural and natural interest . It reminded people of the importance of the interaction between humanity and nature as well as the need to maintain a balance between the two.