Places

59 – Aqueduct

It’s amazing how you can miss things. Walking up to Fourvière on Sunday I was looking for the Roman Aqueduct that once supplied the city with water over 2000 years ago. I wasn’t expecting much, but looking up at the two surviving columns that once held up one of the thousands of arches that formed the 78 kilometre structure, I was a touch disappointed.

The Gier Aqueduct is part of the sightseeing circuit everybody does when they visit Lyon. Up to the amphitheatres at St. Just, round to the cemetery at Loyasse, over the passarelle to the Mini Eiffel Tower, and then on to the Basilica at Fourvière. After a bit of a pray, it’s a quiet meander down through the Rose garden back to the old town.

But even though the Aqueduct is on the circuit, nobody ever finds it. This is despite having to walk past it on the way to the cemetery. It’s that insignificant. In fact on my two other times here, I’ve actually looked straight at it and thought, ‘Mmm, that looks weird, I wonder what it is? Anyway, where’s that blasted aqueduct!’’

And this happens to everybody. Except perhaps the most mercilessly planned Americans, who on their first and last trip to Europe, ‘will by God not miss anything’. Even a pile of rocks that 2000 years ago formed part of a grand waterway stretching across the valley and into the hills far away.

And that’s the error people make. They assume they are about to witness a perfect example of Roman engineering complete with a full legion of soldiers rising their Lugdenum Standard up to the tourists below. Instead there’s nothing. Well almost nothing.

You could walk this way every day for the rest of your life and not notice it. You might see a strange stone sculpture that looks like the bottom half of a pair of giant lion’s feet, but you wouldn’t think in a million years: ‘Ah, that must be a Roman aqueduct. Second century engineering. See it a mile off. Classic!’

Everybody simply strolls straight past it, comes to the crossroads at Rue Cardinal Gertier and says: Where’s that blasted Aqueduct!’

On my third trip, however, I found it. My only words were: ‘Oh that!’

Further inspection does reveal a tiny plaque on the wall giving you an explanation of what the hell it is. But that’s it. While the Basilica gets all the glory; the Amphitheatres all the theatre and pop concerts during the summer. What does the Aqueduct get? Standing alongside a busy road, half built into somebody’s garden wall, it receives about as much affection as the gypsies flogging Tarot cards in Bellecour.

Maybe they should build a gigantic billboard next to it that reads:

This is the Aqueduct. I may not look like much, but I’ve been here longer than all of you put together. So before you bugger off to look at all the fancy buildings over yonder, just remember one thing. I could collapse and crush you all to death at any minute. Have a nice day.

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