We present the ancient Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, and a side trip to the small city of Nimes with its Roman sights and a pretty town center. If arriving by train, exit the Nimes train station and walk a few blocks along Avenue Feucheres to a shady park, and just beyond to the star attraction of town and the world’s best-preserved ancient Roman amphitheater, Les Arenes. The arena is very similar in age and appearance to the Colosseum in Rome, but only half the size, seating 24,000 people. It is still used today for a variety of entertainments, including concerts and the French version of bullfighting where the bull chases would-be matadors out of the ring and is not killed. A lovely pedestrian zone of shops and cafés extends just beyond the right side of the arena, with the main lane of Rue de l’Aspic running ten blocks through its center. Most shops open at 10:00am, so it will still be very quiet at this early hour with shuttered windows and just a few locals walking by on their way to work. Check out the shops and other sights on your way back to the station later in the morning, but for now stroll six blocks along Rue de l’Aspic and turn left on Rue General Perrier to the other great historic monument of Nimes, Maison Carrée or the “square house,” France’s best-preserved Roman temple. Maison Carrée looks like a smaller version of the Parthenon, with tall Corinthian columns running around it and a classic façade topped by a triangular pediment. Legend holds that the 2000-year-old temple was built by General Agrippa in honor of two grandsons of Emperor Augustus, Caius and Lucius. They became joint rulers of the Nimes area, an important center of the Roman Empire in the south of France. Statues of those two royal grandsons stand guard two blocks away in the greenery of Square Antonin. Across the street from Maison Carrée you will notice a striking modern building designed by the great British architect, Sir Norman Foster. Crafted in steel and glass in a pleasing rectangular shape, it fully complements the ancient temple architecture and houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, one of several major modern structures built in Nimes during the 1990s by its progressive mayor, Jean Bousquet. Walk along the scenic Quai de la Fontaine next to a beautiful, tree-lined canal that comes from the Jardin de la Fontaine a few blocks away. This pleasant section of town was where the local water source sprang from the ground in Roman times, but as the settlement grew the water supply became inadequate and needed to be supplemented by a major Roman aqueduct system, including the Pont du Gard that will be the focus of this afternoon’s excursion into the countryside. At this point of the morning you have undoubtedly worked up a healthy appetite that could be deliciously satisfied at the breakfast buffet in one of Nimes’ nicest hotels, the four-star Imperator Concorde located along this shady stretch of the canal near the Jardin de la Fontaine. After such an early start it is great to relax for a leisurely, restful meal and get ready to see more of Nimes. Walk back to the Maison Carrée, then continue east a few blocks along the pedestrian Rue de l’Horloge towards more landmarks: the scenic Place Aux Herbs square, setting for the 11th century Cathedral Notre-Dame with its Romanesque frieze across the façade, and two blocks northeast, the Porte d’Augustus, a small triumphal arch honoring Emperor Augustus and built in 15 B.C. History buffs might take time for the Musée Archéologique, two blocks south of the arch, but the rest can walk back into the heart of the pedestrian zone, re-tracing your steps along Rue de l’Aspic, which by now is alive with open shops and cafes. As you get back towards the arena, have a look at the pretty square, Place du Marché, with its crocodile fountain symbolizing Egyptian victories of ancient Roman soldiers who retired in this area. Don’t linger too long for the bus is soon leaving from the open lot behind the train station to take you to Pont du Gard. PONT DU GARD The Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard is one of the greatest sights in all of ancient history. It’s an incredibly impressive structure, in fact, the tallest ancient bridge and the second highest structure the Romans ever built, after the Colosseum in Rome which is just six feet higher. The bus ride from Nimes takes under one hour and drops you off at a traffic circle ten minutes walk from the visitor center. (Our bus ride was free due to a broken fare box, but expect to pay about $5 -- 4 euro.) Pont du Gard is part of an ancient, 26 mile water channel about in length, built mostly on or beneath the ground to carry water to Nimes. The Romans constructed this bridge across the valley about 2,000 years ago to maintain an even flow of water with just a very slight change in level, dropping only about one inch every 300 feet. This engineering feat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Three levels of arches hold up the water channel that runs across the top. The tallest arches that Roman engineers ever built are on the bottom. Their buildings relied heavily on the arch, for many interior spaces were differing variations of this critical feature: large rooms were often made with barrel-vaulted ceilings, really a series of arches connected together, and an arch could also be spun around on its axis to form a dome, another important Roman innovation. Coming all this way to Pont du Gard, you want to fully enjoy the various vistas for a complete appreciation. The paved path from the visitor center affords some decent views, but don’t settle for this. Stroll across the bridge, then up a well-marked hillside path to gain access to the aqueduct’s upper level. Walk back down slope, then along the stream on the sunny side of the structure for a few hundred yards to get the best possible view looking back toward the soaring masterpiece. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and have a calm day with a mirror reflection of the bridge in the river’s smooth surface. This is one of the world’s most astonishing ancient sights, a marvel inherited from antiquity.