Saturday 20 April 2024

The Barbegal Mills

The Barbegal aqueduct and mills are situated in Fontvieille, Bouches-du-Rhône, near Arles. Often hailed as "the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world," it has 16 overshot water wheels, where the outflow of one wheel propells the successive wheel, making it the largest ancient mill complex on record.

The mills are at a junction of two aqueducts that were integral to Arles' water supply. The aqueducts merge just north of the mill complex, and were regulated by a sluice controlling the water's flow to the mills.

The aqueducts where they cross the D82.
You can see the modern road.

We were there on a stinking hot day at the end of June last year. We parked in the official car park by the aqueducts that fed the mills, and followed them up quite a steep hill. That in itself was quite a build up, and leads to a channel cut through the top of the hill.

Walking uphill alongside the aqueducts

The channel cut through the hilltop

The mills are arranged in two parallel sets of eight, progressing down the hillside, each with its own waterwheel. You can see remnants of masonry either side of the water channels and massive foundations of the individual mills. It operated from the start of the 2nd century to the close of the 3rd century, and could grind an estimated at 4.5 tons of flour per day.

Looking downhill at the ruins of the mills

Although all is now in ruins it's quite easy to see how it worked, and artists impressions of how the mill looked at it peak abound.

I'm not sure I'd travel all the way to Arles to see it, but it's not that far from the Pont du Gard.

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