While Pont du Gard stands isolated, with only a visitors’ center and a car park, Ponte delle Torri leads you over a breathtaking chasm into the heart of medieval Spoleto
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Ponte delle Torri is located on the eastern side of the Italian town of Spoleto in Umbria, north of Rome DIMENSIONS Length 774 ft (236 m); height 295 ft (90 m)
CONSTRUCTED Between the 12th and 14th centuries
Jan: 37°F (3°C); Apr: 55°F (13°C); Jul: 79°F (26°C); Oct: 63°F (17°C)
Pont du Gard, the most spectacular section of a 30-mile (50-km) aqueduct, was built to bring water to the Roman city of Nîmes in France. Emerging fully formed from the Mediterranean scrub, it runs for 460 heroic feet (140 m) before disappearing again into the scrub. After walking its length, all that’s left to do is turn around and head back to the coach-filled parking lot.
Conversely, a narrow, unpeopled track near Ponte delle Torri guides you through the forested hills of Monteluco. The path edges warily round a ravine, and then the great aqueduct stands before you, its slender columns spanning a seemingly impossible chasm. Continue past the ruins of the castle guarding this end and head, breath held, along the narrow walkway across the bridge. The fearsome Rocca, a medieval fortress, looms ahead.
Turn left and within a few steps you’re in the heart of Spoleto, one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.
No one is sure exactly when the magnificent Ponte delle Torri was built. It’s possible that it was built on top of a long-vanished Roman aqueduct, but it’s more likely to have been entirely constructed in the 13th century. Either way, it was used to bring water from the mountains to the upper part of Spoleto, while simultaneously providing access to Monteluco. There are castles at both ends of its 774-ft (236-m) span and two of its supporting columns are actually hollow, presumably to house guardrooms and storerooms.
The view over the thickly wooded Tessino Valley from the middle of the bridge is breathtaking.
The 10 pillars divided by nine slender and graceful arcades are magically lit from below, yet the narrow path across the gorge heads into impenetrable darkness. Come here at night and chances are a courting couple will be somewhere ahead of you, arm-in-arm, incapable of resisting seclusion and the bridge’s romantic appeal.
From the bridge you can either climb up to the medieval Rocca or head into the center of Spoleto, where, within minutes, you’ll be in the maze of narrow streets that cut through the town. There’s a Roman theater, several early Christian basilicas, and the lovely Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta, which houses the final fresco cycle created by well- known Florentine painter Fra Filippo Lippi. But it’s Ponte delle Torri that will draw you back. While you stand on the bridge, contemplating the silent Apennines, it seems impossible to believe that a thriving medieval town lies just yards behind you.
FORGET PONT DU GARD?
THE BUILD-UP Pont du Gard is without doubt one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.
Whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you’ve seen it, the 2,000-year-old aqueduct never ceases to amaze. A gorgeous yet supremely practical piece of engineering, the aqueduct probably says more about Roman civilization than any other structure in the Classical World.
THE LETDOWN Your introduction to Pont du Gard is likely to be the enormous parking lot.
Then there’s the stroll down the carefully constructed gravel path in the company of that day’s quota of the aqueduct’s two million-plus annual visitors. Then it’s past the visitor center, restaurant, and finally the bridge itself.
GOING ANYWAY? To avoid the hordes in cars, there are regular bus services from Avignon and Nîmes to Remoulins, a short walk from the entrance. You can swim in the river beneath the bridge; better still, rent a canoe from nearby Collias and glide beneath the aqueduct in style.