Festivals, museum, concerts, workshops, exhibitions… The Pont-du-Gard, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985, has grown into a godsend for tourism in this part of western Provence located at the northern tip of Languedoc. But “without selling its soul”, says the site manager.
The Pont du Gard is a spectacular well-preserved 3-tiered Roman aqueduct built over the River Gard (or Gardon). It is a bridge as well as an aqueduct, located 25 kilometers north-east of Nîmes in the direction of Avignon. At almost 50 meters in height, it is the tallest the Romans ever constructed. It is part of the aqueduct built around the year 20 BC to transport water over 50 kilometers from the Eure spring near Uzès to the city of Nîmes.
In 2011, 1.4m people visited the site (40% of them foreign tourists), making it the 2nd most visited provincial monument in France.
However things haven’t been easy. In 2003, the site was almost bankrupt and its then-managers had to take drastic measures. The site is now enclosed and a (substantial) parking fee is levied – but the visit of free. Mr. Toeschi developed seminars (2011 revenues: 800,000€) and wedding parties (100,000€). “We thought we’d only get a few bookings. But we have had over 30 events this year already”, he says. The program for the rest of 2012 is eclectic: fireworks nights, a “bat night”, exhibitions from Paris, and concerts.
But all these business ventures are organized with the respect of the site in mind. All concerts or live events are limited to 15,000 people. « We have had a crowd of 25,000 once – but we won’t do it again, it created too many problems.” Among which is the preservation of the pristine site of 160 hectares (400 acres) around the Roman Bridge.
However, an important problem remains to be solved as there are no hotels in the area capable of welcoming more than 50 guests – not in Uzès (12 kilometers away), not in local Remoulins – and therefore tourists only come in for the day and leave. Local authorities, headed by Damien Alary, head of the Gard general assembly (“conseil général”), are blaming zoning regulations disputes. They would like to see a luxury hotel or complex built. It is hoped that the outcome of the upcoming local elections (“municipales”) of 2014 will facilitate a solution.