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Vaison-la-Romaine Gallo-Roman bridge and the terrible flood in 1992
"These big blocks of stone, standing since ages in middle of an Alpin torrent’s fury, inspire respect", wrote French writer Stendhal in his Mémoires d’un touriste, part 1.
Oh, this bridge is actually pretty old, 2 000 years old.
He links the old Roman city of Vaison to the Upper City, the medieval town.
It has a single arch, 17 metres long and 9 metres thick! Blocks of stone are linked with metal clamps.
The bridge resisted to German armies' assaults in 1944 and to river Ouvèze’s flood. even the murderous one, on September 22th 1992.
Media related to Roman Bridge (Vaison-la-Romaine) at Wikimedia Commons
- Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine at Structurae
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Cycling Surrounded By History In Vaison La Romaine
Vaison-la-Romaine is definitely a town you want to stay and enjoy for a while. Once you catch your breath from the steep 2 km+ climb up to the old city, you’re instantly captivated by the quiet charm of the narrow cobblestone streets. The old city is under the shadow of the ruins of the castle of the Counts of Toulouse and is filled with private residences, B&B’s and artist’s studios and several restaurants. It’s hard to imagine that this area was founded by the Celts in the 3rd century BC, long before the founding of the “newer” Roman city across the river! And how perfect is it that the two parts of Vaison-la-Romaine are connected by a 2,000 year-old Roman bridge, one of just 5 functional Roman bridges remaining in France?
At first appearance, the “newer” side of Vaison-la-Romaine appears similar to other charming, quaint, hill villages of Provence. But as you approach the Puymin and LaVillasse archeological sites right in the middle of town, you become aware that you are someplace very special. Vaison-la-Romaine is one of the most important Roman heritage sites in France, with more than 37 acres of excavated Roman ruins from the 1st and 2nd century. As amazing as this is, over 120 acres still lies buried beneath the current city!
Several hours isn’t nearly enough time to even begin exploring the extensive Roman sites. Already tired from a hard day of cycling with no food (the Monday lesson), we agreed that we would definitely return to Vaison-la-Romaine in the future, definitely for longer than one night! This town is a perfect base for cycling to the small medieval villages and hill towns in literally every direction. You can choose from a number of signposted cycling itineraries that depart from and return to the Office of Tourism in Vaison-la-Romaine. Most of the itineraries in this area are rated intermediate level, but if you are day traveling without luggage, the routes should be manageable to all but beginner level cyclists. And there’s always the option of renting an e-bike to explore the area’s cycle paths.
A big Vaison-la-Romaine attraction is the Tuesday market, one of the largest and most popular in the South of France, with a history going back to the 15th century. About the only way to get into town on market day is by bike. Most streets are closed off, everything’s gridlocked, and even if you make it into town, there’s no parking. During the busy spring and summer months, the crowds are so large, it’s difficult to even walk through the streets. Best solution: get up early and shop early, definitely before 10. If you’re staying in town for a couple of days, stock up on cheese, fruits, pate and other supplies for picnic lunches or dinners. Then sit back and watch the crowds while you enjoy a cappuccino and croissant from a cafe along the market.
Where to stay when you are visiting a 2,000+ year old city? My choice was a wonderful small B&B called L’Eveche located on a quiet street in the old city. Ivy covers the outside of the building, so much so that you can barely see the sign. The building that houses L’eveche is a maze of one charming room after another, typical of a house that is over 400 years old. Our room overlooked the mountains and the “new” town. I can’t imagine a lovelier place to stay when visiting Vaison-la-Romaine.
All too soon it’s time to leave this warm charming town. I’m not feeling well, I think I’m dehydrated. I don’t even spend a lot of time exploring the market, being more concerned about getting on the road, as we have a very challenging day ahead of us. While I am sad to leave, I know that this is definitely a town I’ll return to.
The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine in april after a heavy rain shower - stock photo
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Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine
Structurae currently has catalogued 4 relevant publication(s) listed below.
- Jaeger, Didier / Maistre, Paul (1993): Hydraulique et génie civil. un exemple spécifique, les crues de l'Ouvèze en 1992 . In: Annales de l'Institut Technique du Bâtiment et des Travaux Publics , n. 515 (July 1993) , pp. 77-148.
- Montens, Serge (2001): Les plus beaux ponts de France . Bonneton , Paris (France), pp. 13.
- Panarotto, Serge (2003): Provence romaine et Pré-romaine . 1 st edition, Edisud , Aix-en-Provence (France), ISBN 978-2744903540, pp. 34.
- Chevallier, Raymond (1997): Les voies romaines . 1 st edition, Picard éditeur , Paris (France), pp. 144.
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Asian cantilever and arch bridges
Wooden cantilever bridges were popular in Asia. The basic design used piles driven into the riverbed and old boats filled with stones sunk between them to make cofferdam-like foundations. When the highest of the stone-filled boats reached above the low-water level, layers of logs were crisscrossed in such a way that, as they rose in height, they jutted farther out toward the adjacent piers. At the top the Y-shaped cantilevering piers were joined by long tree trunks. By crisscrossing the logs, the builders allowed water to pass through the piers, offering less resistance to floods than with a solid design. In this respect, these designs presaged some of the advantages of the early iron bridges.
In parts of China many bridges had to stand in the spongy silt of river valleys. As these bridges were subject to an unpredictable assortment of tension and compression, the Chinese created a flexible masonry- arch bridge. Using thin, curved slabs of stone, the bridges yielded to considerable deformation before failure.
In the Great Stone Bridge (also called the Zhaozhou Bridge) in southern Hebei province, China, built by Li Chun between 589 and 618 ce , the single span of 37 metres (123 feet) has a rise of only 7 metres (23 feet) from the abutments to the crown. This rise-to-span ratio of 1:5, much lower than the 1:2 ratio found in semicircular arches, produced a large thrust against the abutments. To reduce the weight, the builders made the spandrels (walls between the supporting vault and deck) open. The Great Stone Bridge thus employed a form rarely seen in Europe prior to the mid-18th century, and it anticipated the reinforced-concrete designs of Robert Maillart in the 20th century.
The Fratricide and Architecture: The Cendere Bridge
In the southeast of Turkey, not far from the city of Adiyaman, there lies a Roman bridge. It is one of the best preserved Roman structures in Turkey. The restoration was done in 1997, but even before that, the bridge was still in use by vehicles. Today there is a modern bridge that serves the traffic there are more stray dogs than people visiting the old bridge.
Cendere bridge columns dedicated to Septimius Severus and Julia Domna photo by Mina Bulic
Built between 198 and 200 CE by the XVI legion (XVI Flavia Firma) based at Samosata, the bridge crosses the Cendere River at its narrowest point. The Cendere Bridge was probably built as part of construction efforts to facilitate the military campaign of Septimus Severus in the Parthian Empire and Mesopotamia. The 118 m long bridge used to have four Doric columns with statues, two on each side of the bridge, inscribed with dedication texts. The first pair was dedicated to Emperor Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna.
Route AD 66: road-tripping the Roman ruins of southern France
The ancient is coming back into vogue in southern France. In 2019, two new museums will shine a spotlight on Roman history: Nîmes’ Musée de la Romanité and the Musée Régional de la Narbonne Antique. But there’s no need to await their grand openings—you can time-travel back to the Roman Empire on a road trip through southern France’s spectacular ruins now.
Start your exploration in Narbonne, and then zig-zag between triumphal arches, subterranean chambers and France’s most famous aqueduct bridge. The route covers an area locals still call Languedoc-Roussillon—though since the region merged with the Midi-Pyrénées in 2016 is officially known as Occitanie.
Narbonne: stroll through an ancient Roman port
In placid Narbonne, medieval and Renaissance buildings are arranged prettily around a Gothic cathedral. But these historic edifices are youngsters compared to the town’s Roman delights. Narbonne was once a bustling port and capital of Roman province Gallia Narbonensis, thanks to its pivotal location along the Via Domitia—the Romans’ artery between Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.
Narbonne’s Horreum(public warehouse) offers the most atmospheric glimpse of history. Now part of the Palais des Archevêques, this underground gallery once held a public market back in the 1 st century.
Within the same complex, the Musée Archéologique has a collection of interesting Roman busts and coins, but the highlight is the fresco room, displaying lustrous examples of Gallo-Roman art, including surprisingly lifelike portraits of nobles and scenes of legend. These treasures are destined to be rehoused in MuRéNa, the Musée Régional de la Narbonne Antique, in 2019: a perfect excuse to revisit. Outside the palace, you can see traces of the original Via Domitia (something to ponder as you plan your onward drive).
Sleep like Caesar
Arranged around a courtyard, and with a decoratively tiled pool, Villa Ambrosia feels more riad than Roman but its leafy setting is a welcome retreat after a day exploring Narbonne.
Nîmes: admire mighty monuments of Emperor Augustus
Meander east towards Nîmes along the poplar-lined D6009 road and stop after 25km at the Oppidum dɾnsérune. Vases and tombs testify to a once-thriving Roman hill town, whose panoramic views and proximity to the Via Domitia lent it great strategic importance.
Continue 9km south to join the A9 road heading east. Bypassing Béziers, itself home to the dilapidated remains of a Roman arena, the road reaches Nîmes (once Nemasus) after 125km. The baths, gymnasium and circus of this former Roman city have long ago returned to dust but a trio of well-preserved structures recall the ancient past.
Survey the city from Mont Cavalier, the site of the long-beheaded Tour Magne. More than a dozen such towers once stood here, rising 18m high. These towers and their connecting walls were a power move by Emperor Augustus, intended as much for defence as to symbolise the strength of Nîmes.
Another of Augustus’ masterpieces is the Maison Carrée, 1km to the south. Though abandoned after the Roman era, it has been in almost constant use since the 11th century and it now hosts a movie about the history of Nîmes. Its Corinthian columns have provided inspiration to centuries of architects, as a model for Paris’ 19th-century Église de la Madeleine and for the Virginia State Capitol.
Walk 500m south along tree-shaded blvd Victor Hugo for the big finish. Exceptionally well-preserved Les Arènes is the sixth-largest amphitheatre in all the Roman Empire, dating to 100 BC. Measuring 133m at its widest point, the two-tier amphitheatre once brimmed with as many as 24,000 spectators baying for the blood of gladiators.
Sleep like Caesar
Friendly Hôtel De Lɺmphithéâtre has rooms with rococo-style furnishings, only a few steps from the town’s most impressive Roman monument.
Pont du Gard: gaze upon France’s most famous aqueduct bridge
Nîmes would have been nothing without its water source, an aqueduct meandering some 50km from its source in Uzès. Much of it tunnelled beneath ground but around 20km northeast of Nîmes emerges a formidable aqueduct bridge.
Now known as the Pont du Gard, its three tiers support 52 limestone arches, looping elegantly above the River Gard. Testament to the mastery of Roman engineers, the 48.8m-high bridge appears perpendicular with the ground. The water that once gushed across this aqueduct bridge barely descended more than 2cm along its entire 275m length.
The aqueduct dried up after the Roman Empire fell and the Pont du Gard assumed a humbler use, as a tolling point for travellers crossing the river. Today, the Unesco World Heritage Site is one of France’s most famous architectural icons. Walk downstream for the best photographs, or cross the bridge to feel history beneath your feet.
Sleep like Caesar
Boutique guesthouse Mas de Lila, barely 3km north of the bridge, has three whimsically decorated rooms.
Arles: revel in the spoils of Great Roman Civil War
Drive 40km south from the Pont du Gard, along roads fringed by poplars and tile-roofed farmhouses. Soon you’ll reach Arles, whose star came into ascendance following the Great Roman Civil War (49–45 BC). Ancient Arles lent military support to Julius Caesar while major Roman port Marseille backed his opponent, Pompey. When Caesar eventually emerged victorious, Marseille’s riches and status were transferred to Arles.
The ensuing era of prosperity left behind numerous fine monuments. Below ground in Arles’ Place du Forum are the Cryptoportiques, vaulted tunnels thought to be a former barracks.
Walk five minutes east to find Les Arènes, a magnificent double-tiered amphitheatre once capable of holding more than 21,000 people. During the 18th century the amphitheatre was repurposed as a fortress, and enclosed an entire community complete with dozens of houses and two chapels. A century on, ancient Rome came back into style and the amphitheatre was cleared.
Just south on rue du Cloître is a humbler ruin, the Théâtre Antique, whose remaining two columns and crumbling walls are a whisper of its 1st-century glory days.
Sleep like Caesar
L'Hôtel Particulier retains all the luxurious style of its former life as a private townhouse, along with modern trimmings like an outdoor pool and swanky spa.
Orange: imagine riotous applause at the Théâtre Antique
The quickest way to Orange is to bolt north and join the highway but the majesty of your final destination demands a more leisurely 70km route, following the bends of the Rhône along the D2.
Orange’s Théâtre Antique is one of only three intact Roman theatres in the world. Seats fan out from its 37m-high stage wall, where a system of pulleys once raised and lowered a curtain. Squeeze your eyes shut and imagine the mosaics that once bedecked this venue. Presiding over this grand scene is a 3.5m-tall statue of Augustus.
Your Roman road needn’t end here: Vaison-la-Romaine, 27km northeast, holds the remains of Roman houses and a 1st-century bridge, while 50km south stands Glanum’s triumphal arch and mausoleum. After all, the past is well and truly present in southern France.
Sleep like Caesar
Finish in a four-poster bed at Le Glacier, whose individually decorated rooms variously boast murals, bare-brick feature walls and leatherette bed-boards.
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