Gard (30130) Population: 10,640 Altitude: 59 m
Pont-Saint-Esprit is an active and interesting small town on the banks of the Rhône river, at the confluence of the Ardèche. It was a fishing village in the 5th century, a crossroads town throughout history, and has a 700-year-old, 20-arch bridge.
The town has a renowned Saturday market, Medieval fortified walls, imposing old church and the remains of a citadel. Market day Sat.
The bridge was built by Alphonse de Poitiers, Count of Poitiers and Toulouse and brother of Louis IX (Kings). Construction of the bridge was put under the control of a branch of the Knights Hospitalers responsible for bridge construction to facilitate pilgrimages.
As a major crossing point over the Rhône between Languedoc and Provence, the town became an important commercial center, with hostelries, hospices and other lodgings and facilities for voyagers.
Pont of Pont-Saint-Esprit
The namesake bridge of Pont-Saint-Esprit was built 700 years ago. It's the oldest of all the Rhône bridges, and was begun in 1265 to Languedoc to Provence. The bridge is built of 20 arches and is 919 meters long.
The Pont-Saint-Esprit pont was completed in 1307 and opened for river crossings in 1309. In the beginning, only empty chariots were allowed on the bridge; cargos were offloaded, transfered across the river by barge, and reloaded onto the chariots. One can only imagine that this saved having to transport the chariots and horses by barge, but can't have saved much time. It's said that even when the king, Louis XI, arrived, his troops had to dismount and cross on foot.
Defensive towers were added to the western part of the bridge in the 14th and 15th centuries, and remained until the 18th century. In the 16th century the eastern-most arch was destroyed and replaced by three smaller arches.
Seven centuries later, the medieval bridge of Pont-Saint-Esprit is still in service as a road bridge. A modern, 20th-century bridge was added just downstream, allowing traffic to and from the south to bypass the center of town.
Saint Saturnin Church
The Eglise Saint Saturnin is 15th-century Gothic church with a tall 19th-century clock tower.
The original Eglise Saint Saturnin was built here in 882, dedicated to Saint Saturnin who, legend has it, passed by here in 245 on his way to the Languedoc. A later reference to the church was in 948, in a donation to the Monastic order Cluny.
An early renovation occured in 988-989, and it was completely rebuilt in 1143-1164. By the beginning of the 14th century, St Saturnin was in bad shape, and was rebuilt during two periods: 11344-1345 and 1475-1484.
The church was seriously damaged in 1562, during the Wars of Religion, and again in 1793. Extensive restoration was done in the 19th century.
The Prieuré Saint-Pierre is a large, 12th century church building sitting across the Place Saint-Pierre from the Saint Saturnin church.
The original priory (a small monastery) was built by the Cluny around 1045; the only remaining vestiges of the original date from the 12th century. Some of the Provencal-Romanesque remnants show the clear influence of the Roman monuments.
The priory housed 30 monks in the 13th century, and included a chapel reserved for them; hence the need to build a parish church (the Saint-Saturnin) for the town. The prior, head of the priory, was the Lord of the town, and was responsible for starting construction of the famous bridge.
The Pont-Saint-Esprit Affair
History of Pont-Saint-Esprit
The little fishing village of Vallis Clara was founded here in the 5th century. It was known as Saint-Saturnin-du-Port during the Middle Ages, and the name was changed at the end of the 13th century because of the importance of the bridge (pont).
During a short period during the French Revolution, the town was named Pont-sur-Rhône.
Market day: Sat.
• GPS: 44.256112, 4.656401
IGN (1/25,000) #2939 OT "Gorges de l'Ardèche"
IGN (1/25,000) #2940 OT "Bagnols-sur-Cèze, Pont-St-Exprit, Forets de Valbonne et"
The GR4 hiking trail passes through the center of Pont-Saint-Esprit.
Eastward, the GR4 crosses the long Medieval bridge and then over the Rhône canal to Mondragon. Here, the GR4 continues east through the Vaucluse, as well as linking to several other GR trail variants.
South of Pont-Saint-Esprit, the GR42 goes through the villages of Vénejan, Chusclan and Orsan, up over the Cesars's Camp and on to Laudun-l Ardoise.
Department 30, Gard Buses
- See Beyond's Gard Department Bus Schedules for Gard bus-lines maps and bus-line schedules (Horaires).
Maps (Plans) for the Gard bus lines are on the www.edgard.fr website, with a flash webpage for each of five zones around Nîmes (www.edgard-transport.fr/plan/?rub_code=5).
Schedules for the Gard bus lines are available via the www.edgard.fr website horaires page (www.edgard-transport.fr/horaires/?rub_code=23).