I thought we were coming to France to have some peace and quiet away from the lure of ancient sites. This was to be a time for me to settle down and write. Instead we find that the campground we are staying in is one mile from the town of Sommières, which just happens to be celebrating its two-thousandth year of history! I’ll write more about what camping actually means in another blog. For now suffice to say that it is nothing like camping in the US.
Sommières. I just like typing the word. I’m not even sure I know how to pronounce it. But there is a very nice Roman bridge crossing the Vidourle River that accesses the town. It is pretty much the only way into town, and cars and trucks drive over it every day. Emperor Tiberius built the bridge around the year AD 19. This area was a major thoroughfare for armies and trade moving from Rome to Gaul (France) and Spain beyond. Seven of the original 17 arches are still visible and very much in use. The other 10 arches are under the old walled city. You might ask, “Why is the city built on top of these old arches?” It turns out that this area sees a lot of flooding. Every time there are big rains in Central France, it floods here. The locals that set up shop along the Roman road soon discovered that the bridge kept high and dry during the rains. Before you knew it, people were building up on and around the bridge. Soon a city grew up on the banks of the river built on a series of vaulted archways connected to the bridge. These served as water catches and drains during the flood season. Pretty smart! Around AD 1,000 a castle was built here. Ever since the 13th century the city has been well known for its colorful market days. The town really suffered during the Catholic/Protestant wars of the 16th century. After 1700 the castle was turned into a prison. Today it is a sleepy little town with quaint streets, an active market place, and a 2,000-year-old Roman bridge. Pretty cool! Sommières!