Pont Du Gard - Tourism - Literary Visitors

Literary Visitors

Since it became a tourist destination, many novelists and writers have visited the Pont du Gard and written of the experience. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was overwhelmed when he first visited it in 1738:

I had been told to go and see the Pont du Gard; I did not fail to do so. It was the first work of the Romans that I had seen. I expected to see a monument worthy of the hands which had constructed it. This time the object surpassed my expectation, for the only time in my life. Only the Romans could have produced such an effect. The sight of this simple and noble work struck me all the more since it is in the middle of a wilderness where silence and solitude render the object more striking and the admiration more lively; for this so-called bridge was only an aqueduct. One asks oneself what force has transported these enormous stones so far from any quarry, and what brought together the arms of so many thousands of men in a place where none of them live. I wandered about the three storeys of this superb edifice although my respect for it almost kept me from daring to trample it underfoot. The echo of my footsteps under these immense vaults made me imagine that I heard the strong voices of those who had built them. I felt myself lost like an insect in that immensity. While making myself small, I felt an indefinable something that raised up my soul, and I said to myself with a sigh, "Why was I not born a Roman!"

The novelist Henry James, visiting in 1884, was similarly impressed; he described the Pont du Gard as "unspeakably imposing, and nothing could well be more Roman." He commented:

The hugeness, the solidity, the unexpectedness, the monumental rectitude of the whole thing leave you nothing to say – at the time – and make you stand gazing. You simply feel that it is noble and perfect, that it has the quality of greatness ... When the vague twilight began to gather, the lonely valley seemed to fill itself with the shadow of the Roman name, as if the mighty empire were still as erect as the supports of the aqueduct; and it was open to a solitary tourist, sitting there sentimental, to believe that no people has ever been, or will ever be, as great as that, measured, as we measure the greatness of an individual, by the push they gave to what they undertook. The Pont du Gard is one of the three or four deepest impressions they have left; it speaks of them in a manner with which they might have been satisfied.

The mid-19th century writer Joseph Méry wrote in his 1853 book Les Nuits italiennes, contes nocturnes that on seeing the Pont du Gard:

ne is struck dumb with astonishment; you are walking in a desert where nothing reminds you of man; cultivation has disappeared; there are ravines, heaths, blocks of rock, clusters of rushes, oaks, massed together, a stream which flows by a melancholy strand, wild mountains, a silence like that of Thebaid, and in the midst of this landscape springs up the most magnificent object that civilization has created for the glory of the fine arts.

Hilaire Belloc wrote in 1928 that:

hen one sees the thing all that is said of it comes true. Its isolation, its dignity, its weight, are all three awful. It looks as though it had been built long before all record by beings greater than ourselves, and were intended to stand long after the dissolution of our petty race. One can repose in it. I confess to a great reluctance to praise what has been praised too much; but so it is. A man, suffering from the unrest of our time, might do worse than camp out for three days, fishing and bathing under the shadow of the Pont du Gard.

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