Some of you may suspect that I am obsessed with bridges, and there is truth to that. The imagery of closing gaps and making connections is innately appealing to me, not only in nature, but also symbolically, when people build bridges to each other. When I decided to try living in France, I had no clue that it would be a country rich in both sorts of bridge, and I have devoted a fair number of these pages to the subject.
Focusing on bridges of the physical sort, France has many that were built in antiquity and later in the Middle Ages which still stand and function perfectly well today. Among the many Roman era aqueduct bridges, the most renowned is the Pont du Gard in Provence. It was part of a 50-kilometer-long aqueduct that provided water to the Roman community of Nimes. Long after the Roman Empire collapsed, it remains standing, even if today it only transports pedestrians and cyclists.
It is a majestic structure, built with three tiers of arches that soar nearly 50 meters above the Gardon River, a bit west of Avignon. There are not many structures that provide the appearance of such light elegance as the Pont du Gard, despite the fact that it incorporates stones that weight as much as six tons, most of which are assembled without the use of either mortar or clamps.
Between 1421 and 1441 a bridge known as the Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge) was erected across the Tech River at Ceret. Legend has it that the devil was called upon to construct it, because it was so impossible to accomplish. The latter accepted the task, on condition that it could claim its due in the form of the first soul to cross it, for which the locals are said to have provided a cat.
When it was built, it was the world’s largest bridge arch, a distinction it retained for only 15 years, until the Castelvecchio Bridge in Verona surpassed the Pont du Diable in size.
If you pay attention to the legends, the devil was enlisted several times in the Middle Ages in France to construct impossible bridges. One of them is the Valentré Bridge in Cahors, which spans the Lot River. Begun in 1308, it took 70 years to complete. Moreover, it isn’t only a bridge. It is also a medieval fortress, replete with machicolations and crenellations, one of the most impressive sights in the region.