The Nemausus Diary
A collection of facts, figures, anecdotes and observations as the project moves - in an occasionally linear fashion - from Uzès to Nîmes.
Searching for Nemausus…
Under the distant tree is Brian Charles Southgate at work. His ambition is to map the entire line of the still visible vestiges of l’aqueduc de Nîmes using GPS waypoints linking these vestiges and lesser known discoveries along the way to the original and well documented route of the aqueduct. This is no easy task: [ED: there’s a problem here. Nice photo though it is, he’s NOWHERE NEAR the line of the aqueduct… JC: ah, OK, so I’ll start again].
In spring and autumn, and occasionally on nice winter days, we set off to the point of last contact, Brian armed with books, charts, GPS and a notebook, Cookie with boundless energy and occasionally a lead if it has not already been mislaid, and me with a ridiculous amount of photo gear. If we’re serious it’s a day, packed lunch included; if only half serious, half a day followed by lunch. And it’s too hot for this stuff in summer.
So, beginning in autumn 2017, reaching le pont du Gard in January 2019, and continuing this spring through the vallons to the south of le pont du Gard, we’re on schedule to have finished the first pass - waypoints plotted, photos taken, ‘AHA’ moments recorded - in two years: for the approximately 10% (5km) of visible vestiges if laid end to end. At the same pace, it is estimated by some, that it took the Romans to build the whole damn 50km. Of course, they had manpower….
…. and we are not working in a vacuum. The literature on this subject is immense, past excavations extensive and opinions as varied as the route the aqueduct follows. The current challenge is in part to find the earlier references, which are over 20 years old, overgrown, ploughed under, enclosed or otherwise obliterated. But when you find something really obscure, it’s a rush!
Our most used sources to date have been:
Scholarly: “l’aqueduc de Nîmes et le pont du Gard - Arhéologie Géosystème Histoire” under the direction of Guilheme Fabre, Jean-Luc Fiches and Jean-Louis Paillet pub. CNRS Editions ISBN2-271-05731-0
Handy: “l’aqueduc du pont du Gard - 8 itinéraires de découverte d’Uzès à Nîmes” by Claude Larnac and François Garrigue pub. Les Presses du Langeduc ISBN1-85998-295-7
Imaginitive: “The Aqueduct of Nemausus” by George Hauck pub. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN0-89950-277-6
Website: There are many, but the four sections in this English language link relating to the Nîmes aqueduct are concise and easy to follow (accessed in the alphabetical listing on the left of the page).
The Diary and the Photos
The diary focuses on the project’s progress: the where, the what, the details, the curiosities. The photos, on the next page, give a fuller visual account of l’aqueduc de Nîmes following the route and referencing the major sites, using black and white images evocative of the sheer antiquity of this extraordinary feat of engineering will over typographic reality. In combination, they might serve to fire the imagination of both the latent engineer and the hopeless romantic.
Autumn 2017 / Winter 2018
It may look sparse, but the fact that many of the visible remains in this section are on private land, with sections underground, it took in some cases several trips to get on track and stay on track.
Discoveries included this delightful section to be seen over a field, as the aqueduct leaves la vallée de L’Eure.
On the left of the photo, sitting behind the orchard with its persimmon and fruit trees, you can see the outline of the top of an arch: this is where a section of the channel emerges from a tunnel and then runs the length of the wall. In the channel is a potager. Talk about hard landscaping!
Traversing relatively flat terrain, on public land, this section provides a gentle walk in the woods, tracking the line of some of the most impressive series of arches which carried the raised bed of the channel. It is here that the extreme damage of concretion and the story of collapse becomes apparent, leading to the impact of the removal and “repurposing” of cut stone.
It is nevertheless full of beauty and a sense of the sheer scale of the thing. Sitting in woodland, with dramatic late autumn and winter light, it builds momentum towards le pont du Gard - only to be lost 300 metres short of the bridge itself.
Although the facing stone was the victim of stone robbers, the foundations of the arches leading to the dramatic first site of the channel running on top of le pont du Gard was used to construct the 18th century roadway that exists to the present day.
Winter 2019 - Crossing to the Other Side.
In the past month, we’ve arrived in the spectacular and varied terrain of les bois de Remoulins. It is here that everything changes. From level terrain and structures that are at ground level or built above ground, travelling in relatively straight lines, turning corners gently, you are plunged into a land of ridges and valleys, where the line of the aqueduct quickly drops below your line of sight and you are descending precipitous hillsides to reach the channel and its many bridges. There are in this stretch 11 vallons or combes, each requiring a crossing from a simple culvert over a stream, to a solid support, to what in the case of le pont de la combe Roussière was a structure of 25 metres in height and multiple arches. All that remains is a dramatic launching point and an arrival pad that hints at its size only be some well positioned and shaped shrubs in place of the original foundations
It is here too that you see the most dramatic images of concretion: the layers of calcium deposited like the rings of trees over centuries, slowly blocking the channel.
Here you can see in glorious detail from a relatively fresh cut in the wall of the channel both the construction and the impact of the lime deposits. On the right are the cut stone facing, which ran from the foundation of the channel up to its height, and was either capped with a stone slab or an arched roof. To the immediate left is the layer of pink aggregate and concrete that was the liner and sealing material. In its original form, this defined the extent of the channel, and was a consistent 1.2m in width. What completes the scene is the calcium, deposited in layers, building and building until the channel at its base was reduced to no more than 33cm. This, and the uncontrollable leaks, put paid to the utility of the aqueduct and paved the way for the stone robbers and further destruction.
Spring 2019 - Out of the Vallons and into Remoulins
Finally, a way into the infrequently viewed combe Gilles and its bridge was found, after extensive research by Brian. Often written up as inaccessible, there is in fact a way over the combe shared with the final vallon, number 11, marked by cairns. IF you can find them. The alternative route requires protection for the arms, legs, face and eyes of almost military efficacy, given it really is a scree ride down a thorn-covered embankment into a streambed long overgrown. Wild boar know it well... …we now know it too. We missed the cairns. And suddenly, one fine April morning last week, we were there and making our way out of les Vallons after three months of energising discovery.
Waypoint One Hundred
This is what greeted us: 50 metres up the road from the entry to the path to Vallon #11, 10 metres from the road and an hour of searching later, we had reached waypoint 100. The notation of these waypoints, of which there are 175, is in the tome “l’aqueduc de Nîmes et le pont du Gard - Arhéologie Géosystème Histoire”. They represent every known vestige at the time of the final excavations in the late 1990’s. By no means all remain visible: time, nature, the demands of agriculture and modern life have obliterated traces of many. In terms of our progress, this puts us well over half way, emerging as we are about to into the light industrial, commercial and transportation infrastructure of Nîmes. Still, a milestone is a milestone regardless of how it is measured.
le pont de Bornegre revisited
Having failed miserably to get any decent shots of this when we visited it in 2017, the first bridge on the route from Uzes to the pont du Gard, I wandered up to it mid-morning on a recent photo shoot for a new project. Rewarded with amazing light, filtered through the surrounding woods onto the bridge, as if revealed by an act of He Who Does not Exist (maybe), the images can be seen here.
The remaining arch (of three originals, the others being buried below the level of the platform) displays in beautiful detail its most unusual feature: The bridge was built using cut stone that spans the entire width: a series of single stones neatly arched to form the complete span.
Not only that, but time and nature have endowed the resulting water channel with some amazing colour and detail.
les tunnels de Sernhac
So just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes Sernhac. A limpid May day, a large site to explore, and the sheer magic of light that is not much more than a reflection of the point of entry and promise of an escape to come. But you’ll have to visit the photo page for that!
The two tunnels sit on opposite sides of the valley created when the site was quarried to provide the stone for le pont du Gard and aqueduct. The channel ran in a large horseshoe, following the contours required to maintain the gradient as always. It seems a bit strange now. My imagination tells me that these tunnels might have been avoided had the channel been built after the excavation. But logic suggests that the channel might predate the completion of the quarry, being built to a schedule that required multiple crews working on different things. Amazing what these Romans could do with a supply of cheap and expendable local labour: the original zero hours contracts perhaps.
In any event, today, even though you are quickly consumed by the dark, you end up feeling as if the tunnels are hanging in the quarry, suspended half way up the sides.
Of course, as always on these aqueducting days, there is a conversation between Brian and Cookie the aquedog about where to go. Then cookie goes where he want and gets there first…
Thence to Nîmes! There are more missed waypoints to fill, private sites to be accessed (with permission of course) and fluffed pictures to be retaken, all the while keeping an eye out for further curiosities.
And when that is done, what to do with all this material? The ambition of course is to publish, in the form of a walkers’ guide on the one hand and photographic monograph on the other. We’ll keep the diary and the photos updated at more or less regular intervals.
And a few more things spotted along the way:
Follow the link to see the photographs