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A Provence Gem: the Pont Julien

A Provence Gem: the Pont Julien

The Pont Julien is a remarkable example of Roman engineering, set in the picturesque Luberon valley of Provence. Its history stretches back over two millennia, providing a fascinating glimpse into both the ancient and medieval periods.

The Pont Julien was built in 3 BC as part of the Via Domitia, the first Roman road in Gaul that connected Italy to Spain. This road was crucial for the Roman Empire’s control over its provinces. The bridge’s name is derived from the nearby Julian family, although it is often mistakenly thought to be named after Julius Caesar.

The bridge is a triumph and a masterpiece of Roman engineering. It was constructed using limestone blocks, without the use of mortar – these blocks were precisely cut to fit together tightly. The bridge spans 80 meters across the Calavon River and features three arches, with the central arch being the largest. This design was not only beautiful but also architecturally practical, as it effectively dispersed the force of the river currents, minimizing flood damage.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Pont Julien remained in use, surviving various floods and wars largely intact due to its robust construction. It continued to be an important crossing point on the route between the Italian peninsula and the Iberian Peninsula.

It wasn't until 2005 that the bridge was closed to car traffic after serving as a true bridge for over 2000 years. Today, it is accessible only to pedestrians and cyclists, allowing visitors to appreciate its historic grandeur up close.

I visited the bridge on an early spring day, when the river was raging. The force of the water was powerful under the beautiful structure.

The bridge is not just a relic of Roman architecture; it is also a symbol of continuity in the region. Over the centuries, it has witnessed various historical eras and changes in political and cultural landscapes.

Photography and writing by Emilie Johnson. She lives in Provence and can be found on instagram at @emilie_joly_johnson