Coming from Hadrian’s Wall country, I’ve always appreciated the phenomenal engineering skills of the Romans, but after my recent week in the south of France, I am even more impressed. On our first day we went to a Roman settlement with ruins of villas, streets and shops. There was even a 2000 year old motorway service area equivalent on the main Roman road between Cadiz and Rome. The whole town, Oppidum, was surrounded by ramparts which must, centuries later, have influenced Vauban when he fortified many French towns.
Nearby is an extensive Roman quarry where the sheer scale of the operations is breathtaking. So much stone was removed that it created a microclimate, reaching the water table, and locals used the area to create irrigated allotments for kitchen gardens in use right up to the middle of the last century
The next day we went to the Pont du Gard. This carried the water along a carefully calculated gradient from Uzes to Nimes, and like the Forth Bridge, had a constant team of workers maintaining it, mainly descaling the lime deposits which threatened to clog the “canalisation” of the upper level. It’s possible to walk through this channel and see this at first hand. The bridge is superb, intact and impressive.
Of course Nimes has its own amphitheatre, and Roman remains are everywhere. Interestingly, the Route Courbet runs through this area of Roman remains which he painted, and many of his paintings are now in the Museum Fabre in Montpellier, including “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet” where the artist is depicted meeting his patron.