Tuesday, October 7

Steve: After completing our standard morning schoolwork and taking care of some planning, we drove to Pont du Gard, an unbelievably impressive Roman aqueduct built in 50 AD. We had not planned to spend much time here, but quickly found ourselves immersed in the history, engineering and the visual spectacle of the Pont du Gard.

The Pont du Gard was part of an aqueduct built by the Romans to supply water to the city of Nimes, which had grown rapidly and quickly outgrown its local water supply. After considering several alternatives, the Romans decided to bring water in from springs near the town of Uzes, located 31 miles away. The Uzes-Nimes aqueduct was operational for over 500 years, and at its peak delivered 44 million gallons of water per day to Nimes to supply its baths, public buildings and houses.

The most amazing feature of the Nimes aqueduct is its incredible engineering precision. Over the 31 miles, its average slope is approximately 15 inches per mile, and we learned that the grade was intentionally varied across different sections of the aqueduct. In fact, on approximately half of its 31-mile span, the grade is only 7 inches/mile! In total, the aqueduct is only 39 feet higher at its inception in Uzes than at its final destination in Nimes. It's absolutely amazing what the Roman engineers were able to do 2,000 years ago…

Interestingly, over 90% of the Nimes aqueduct is underground. The Pont du Gard is the highest portion of the aqueduct (and the tallest bridge that the Romans ever built) and represented the single biggest challenge for transporting the water to Nimes. However, the overall aqueduct contains a whole series of tunnels, channels and smaller bridges. It is likely that major sections of the aqueduct were constructed simultaneously, and that the entire building process lasted for approximately 15 years. There are no surviving written records of its construction, so historians have had to piece together information based on excavations and study of the ruins.

We approached the Pont du Gard from the right side of the river, and we initially walked across the bridge and then up a trail to get a great view looking across the entire span. We knew that the site would be impressive, but it's hard to imagine the sheer size and mass of the structure. Some of the limestone blocks weigh 5-6 tons, and the bridge towers 160 feet over the river. We tried to take pictures of us standing next to the bridge supports to try to capture just how massive it is, but it's hard to do with a photograph. We spent time admiring the Pont du Gard from above, and then walked down to the river and upstream to get a view from below. We enjoyed simply relaxing on the limestone rocks by the river, taking in the scene, and imagining what it took to build such an amazing structure.

The Pont du Gard is amazingly well preserved, and stands as a great testament to the quality of the Roman engineering. It has survived several major floods through the centuries, and has required only a small amount of restoration. In 1985 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our timing today was perfect - although this spot is touristed by 5,000 people per day during the summer, today it was virtually empty. This made it possible to really enjoy and reflect on what we were seeing.

There's a museum on site that covers all aspects of the Pont du Gard, including its construction, the route that was selected by Roman engineers and how the water was used in Nimes. There was also an aerial movie that took us along the entire distance of the aqueduct. The museum is extremely well-done, and we greatly enjoyed spending time learning more about this amazing engineering feat.

We had originally planned to also go to Uzes and to Nimes today, but we had spent too long at Pont du Gard and so we only had time to visit Uzes. Uzes is a small town located about 20 minutes from Nimes, and is full of picturesque streets, squares, cathedrals and a palace (this is also where the film Cyrano de Bergerac was filmed in 1990). We greatly enjoyed following the historical walking tour as recommended by the local tourist office. Our walk took us through several charming areas, and we also had fun stopping in many of the little shops and bakeries here. There are an amazing number of cute towns like this throughout Europe, and Uzes clearly is one of the nicest that we've been to.

Tomorrow we'll probably drive either to Aix or to Avignon. We're also waiting for a warm and calm day before heading back into the Camargue for some hiking or biking.

Distance Walked: 3.46 miles

Katie's Komments

The topic for today is… continuation of two of my favorite pieces of artwork in Florence

David by Michelangelo/ Location: The Academia Museum

You enter the room and your vision immediately zooms down to the end of the hallway where Michelangelo's world famous David stands. He is remarkably enormous. You walk slowly down the hall to get a closer view of this truly amazing piece of artwork. When you get there, you study his striking pose with great interest-how could this have been a symbol for the courageous Florentines?

David, sculpted from 1501-1504 by Michelangelo Buonarroti was a very famous and important symbol for the Florentines during early Renaissance times. This 17 foot statue originally stood in The Piazza della Signoria, but was later moved to The Academy Museum where it stands today. Michelangelo broke the mold of David slaying Goliath by not showing him muscular and proud on top of Goliath's head after slaying him, but instead before the killing of Goliath. His striking look and posture shows his determination and strategic thinking before the fight. Why then was this a symbol for the Florentines? The story of David slaying Goliath was that if you had faith in God and believed in yourself you could take over anything-even something ten times your own size. During the early Renaissance times in Florence the Medicis, a powerful aristocratic family, was ruling the city. The Medici family was large, sneaky and extremely power hungry. Their version of David slaying Goliath was that strength and force could kill anything. They believed victory and power was every man's goal in life.

Also in the Piazza della Signoria is a sculpture commissioned by the Medicis. It shows Perseus, muscular and strong, holding the head of the monster Medusa. His pride is clearly visible from his mysterious smile and heroic pose. There are guts and blood pouring out of Medusa's lifeless head. It is truly disgusting. This sculpture was in a way saying to the Florentines that if they dared to revolt against the Medici family their heads would be under Perseus' feet. Micelangelo's David was sending a message to the Medici's saying that they believed in themselves and with strategic thinking and faithfulness in God they could overthrow their family even though they were 10 times the size of the Florentines. The most remarkable thing about this is that the two symbolic statues were standing right across from each other in The Palazzo Vecchio, eyeing each other with determination to become victorious.

You then realize that David's determined pose and expression was not only a symbol for the Florentines but also a symbol for the entire Renaissance era. It portrayed the qualities of great importance during these times-personal determination, inner strength, strategic thinking and many other humanistic ideas that were to come and still exist in our ideas about the world today.













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