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Bridging History

June 16, 2017

I’ve long been fascinated with bridges; being driven over the Golden Gate Bridge as a kid was quite a treat. Europe has many rivers and bridges and we were fortunate to visit three on our recent vacation. Many of these ancient bridges come with colorful stories about their construction.


The Pont d’ Avignon (built 1177-85) is world famous for the nursery rhyme known by most French children, and while standing on the broken span we heard dozens of children bursting into renditions of Sur le Pont d'Avignon. The bridge was already built when the Pope moved here from Rome in 1309 and began construction on a new papal palace, a move that would eventually cause a schism in the Church until the popes returned to Rome. According to legend, the bridge’s construction was prompted by Saint Bénézet, a shepherd boy who was tending his sheep when he heard Jesus Christ asking him to build a bridge across the river. Of course no one believed him, with some claiming that if Jesus wanted a bridge he’d give the boy super strength to lift and carry a massive block of stone down to the river. When the boy miraculously did so, he won support for the project.




Pont d' Avignon




The Pont d’ Avignon was damaged by flooding many times over the centuries. In the 1700s a flood washed away all but three of the stone arches. On our tour, we chuckled when a woman from our group claimed she’d actually walked across the bridge the night before. Since that would have required a special (miraculous) ability, we joked that paying for wine was foolish; if she could walk on water she could no doubt change water into wine.


The Valentré Bridge in Cahors is a majestic medieval structure built in the 14th century (from 1308-1378). Practically a fort, for centuries it was used to exact fees and tolls from barges and boats passing beneath. There’s a delightful story associated with this bridge. Construction had gone on for more than fifty years with no end in sight when the architect in charge made a deal with the devil. The devil would serve the architect until the bridge was completed, at which time the architect would forfeit his soul. When the bridge neared completion the architect, fearing the loss of his soul, came up with an ingenious idea; he ordered the devil to serve his workers water from a bucket filled with holes. The devil was frustrated because keeping water in the bucket proved impossible. The architect got to keep his soul.




The Valentré Bridge





Do you see the devil?




 Here’s a closer look.


My favorite bridge was the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct crossing the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. Readers of this blog know I’m fascinated with all things Roman and this magnificent structure serves as testament to the engineering skills that made Rome master of the world. The Pont du Gard, highest of all Roman aqueducts, formerly carried an estimated 8,800,000 gallons of water a day to fountains, baths and homes for the citizens of nearby Nîmes. No mortar was used in its construction; the stones are held together by gravity. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Pont du Gard remained in use for hundreds of years, mostly as a bridge.




Pont du Gard






Staring up at this marvel of engineering, I couldn’t help but wonder what will be left of our civilization two thousand years after we’re gone.




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That lady must have slunk in her seat when she realized the huge boo boo she made. I love these pictures and that devil is non too smart and ugly to boot! :) Can one walk on the very top of that famous Roman aqueduct?? I think, when all the new towers and bridges will be gone due to earthquakes, floods etc... these bridges and buildings will still be standing
By: Birgit on June 16, 2017
We'll probably blow the whole world up to leave no trace of anything behind. Those Roman aqueducts are pretty amazing considering the technology available.
By: PT Dilloway on June 16, 2017
Great images fleshed out with great stories. Thank you for sharing.
By: John on June 16, 2017
I've never laid eyes on any of the structures. I am nevertheless impressed by their longevity and genius in engineering. Why can't are roads and bridges be built to such high levels in quality today? Just saying...
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 16, 2017
what lovely photos and fascinating facts- we've stood where you stood by the Pont du Gard and were totally amazed at the engineering skills the Romans had.
By: Kathe W. on June 16, 2017
Lovely and amazing structures, i'm always captivated wondering how they stand and survive.
By: messymimi on June 16, 2017
Gorgeous pictures, Steve, and good commentary. I've seen a few of these structures, but now know their stories. Thanks.
By: Jo on June 16, 2017
It's a miracle some of those are still standing. I think that lady drank all the wine the night before.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on June 16, 2017
Almost always learn when I come here. The Pont du Gard is a wonder . I have seen small samples of the dry stacking of stones but that is amazing.
By: Arkansas Patti on June 16, 2017
Great photos, Stephen, and thank you sharing all of your knowledge with us as well. I have said it before but I always leave your blog thankful because you make me laugh or make me smarter. Take care.
By: Mr. Shife on June 16, 2017
I marvel at what the Romans left behind and love your aqueduct photos. (love that devil, too!)
By: Kelly on June 16, 2017
Sur le Pont d'Avignon will run through my head for the rest of the day and possibly continue all weekend unless something replaces it. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 16, 2017
The engineering prowess of the ancient Romans was amazing, even by today's standards. Thanks for sharing.
By: scott park on June 16, 2017
I too have marveled at the Pont du Gard and its construction. What genius! And I wonder what of our construction will remain in 2 thousand years. Thanks for another great post. We love your travel.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 16, 2017
Amazing bridges. There are three bridges connecting NJ to NY that were constructed during my lifetime that are now being replaced...I wonder why can't we build bridges that last?
By: cranky on June 16, 2017
These bridges are all so lovely---I wish I could see them. Thank you for sharing the interesting stories that go along with each one!
By: Marcia @Menopausal Mother on June 16, 2017
It amazes me how such structures were built back then, without technology we take for granted now.
By: Val on June 16, 2017
I love that devil. I also love old bridges. In the city of Ronda north of us there are several ancient bridges. a Roman Bridge, an Arab Bridge, and New Bridge (which was built in 1769)!
By: Mitchell is Moving on June 17, 2017
Wow, they do look grand! :-) Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on June 17, 2017
I too love bridges. I've never seen any of these but I'm fascinated by their stories.
By: Rick Watson on June 17, 2017
Engineering marvels from long ago...what will we leave behind? Pieces of plastic and rust?
By: Pixel Peeper on June 17, 2017
Amazing that no mortar was used in the Pont du Gard. And it has beautiful lines. Great pictures and write-up, Stephen.
By: jenny_o on June 17, 2017
It is amazing what a civilization can build when it uses slaves, has no government regulations and most of its citizens lives in poverty.
By: Kate on June 18, 2017

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