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“Envisioning another time”
Review of Barbegal Watermill

Barbegal Watermill
Ranked #30 of 53 things to do in Arles
Attraction details
Reviewed 22 September 2014

If you are new to Europe and visiting this area, get yourself to the Pont du Gard to see one of the world's impressive engineering accomplishments. It is the sister system to the west of Roman Gaul and the aqueduct system of which Barbegal is a part. Take your imagination with you when you travel to the village of Fontvieille where the mills used to be; otherwise you will not be able to envision the vastness of what was once...
I often take visitors here, have them climb atop the dual aqueducts and peer off towards the Alpilles Mountains and the sources of water, ask them to imagine tons of water moving faster and faster down towards Arles until it reached Barbegal. Then we turn west to the facing ridge and the creve cut into the rock where the waters were forced through and out towards a gigantic basin. Down the westward slope were the mills. The waters irrigated the basin crops which when harvested were crushed at the grinding wheels of the mills.
Go there, and let your mind imagine.

3  Thank vincent13520
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 1 January 2014

Being an Engineer, I found this one of the most interesting sites in France. Unluckily there are no informative signs on site and you need to figure it all out on site or read it up on the internet before hand. Definitely a site to visit for any scientifically minded tourist. Some of the other reviews give more détails of the site that I will not repeat. Take time on the site to explore everything, but be carefull as some areas are dangerous. One day the National Government may do something to restore this site when they realise that historic sites are more than churches!

8  Thank OnVacation00Again
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 October 2013

If you're interested in Roman remains, this mill site is a must-see and, as it's off the usual tourist routes, it's likely to be quiet. As well as the mill, there are aqueduct remains both sides of the road and you can trace odd bits of the Arles aqueduct through the woods and scrub to the west of the rock cutting above the mill itself. Just to the east in the village of Paradou, there are other aqueduct remains in the museum car park on the D17 west of the village. These include the foundations of a bridge over the aqueduct that carried the Via Aurelia and, a little distance away, a masonry collection basin. If you visit the mill by car and park in the little layby just by the aqueduct, it might be advisable to leave someone with the vehicle. Both my car and the Spanish one behind it had their back windows smashed but, thankfully, nothing was stolen. Apparently it's not exactly unheard of and is reckoned to be young men having 'fun' by targeting foreign registrations with a catapult from a moving car. I have to say that all the local people I met following this unfortunate incident were very sympathetic and did all they could to help, and the Gendarmerie Nationale at Les-Baux-de-Provence could not have been kinder or more professional. And thank heavens for insurance!

3  Thank johng-mannin
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 16 March 2013

We had to visit this site after seeing the model in Musee de l'Arles et de la Provence Antiques. Although noted in guidebooks with detailed directions to the site, it is not a typical tourist attraction. There is no curation of the site other than sign posts to get you there - just bring your imagination. The site is just east of D82/D33 on CR8 Chemin de Caparon for you GPS users. Parking is only a dirt pull-off along an olive orchard. Remains of the aqueduct to the mills can readily be seen on either side of the road. A path along the south side of the aqueduct ruins leads to site of the watermills.

Walk on the aqueduct and through the channel cut in the rocky outcrop and you will be standing above the watermills site. Very few ruins remain. Need your imagination to imagine the Roman industrial site powered by mills that ground enough grain to feed 10 to 12 thousand people/day.

Before the cut, the aqueduct flow was split by a hydraulic structure, diverting flow to Arles and to the watermills.

Exciting site - for history buffs and for those who appreciate the genius that was Roman engineering!

6  Thank WC-Travelers-75
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 11 February 2013

These are the remains of an extraordinary civic-planning, technical and building achievement that enabled the Romans to provide their major city of the Provence region — Arles — with both water and bread for the entire population!

We first found out about these extraordinary remains from an excellent book by Edward Mullins, 'Roman Provence'. So we set off from St Remy-en-Provence (you could approach Barbégal from Arles if you prefer) to find it. We found it easiest to spot coming south from Fontvieille on the D33, and then continuing past Daudet's Windmill. Barbégal's watermill and aqueduct is just a bit further along the same road, and clearly signposted. You can park immediately as you turn off the main road, and the remains are right there. Because it is little-visited at the moment, you may well be on your own: and there are no entrance fees or site facilities. (If you want to locate the site from Arles on a map, it is approximately six miles to the east.)

We found these to be extraordinary Roman remains, but they are not self-explanatory, nor is there any description or explanation at the site itself. So we recommend that you do a small bit of research before you go if you are to get true value from your visit. If you read French, there are some excellent models and explanations in the Musée de l’Arles Antique, and one of the original giant millstones. If you read English, we found the Edward Mullins' book described above well-worth its cost — it is available quite inexpensively through Amazon. There is also a Wikipedia entry; although we found this a bit flat, it includes some useful photographs of the site. The following website has a very helpful artist's impression of how the mills would have looked originally as well as some photographs: http://www.waterhistory.org/histories/barbegal/

As you arrive, you will see the remains of the aqueduct first. The Romans built this to move water downwards from Les Alpilles (a range of hills just south of St Remy and about six miles to the north of Barbégal) towards Arles, where they had a large population. Amazingly, they realised that they could use the water to kill two important civic birds with one stone. They apparently used part of the water to channel to Arles for drinking, bathing, etc. The other half they used to power 16 watermills to grind corn for the population's bread.

It seems that the Romans divided their aqueduct into two, but apparently there are now no remains at Barbégal of the half that sent the water towards Arles. What one can see is remains of the part of the aqueduct that powered the mills. This was itself also divided — into two streams of water that each powered eight mills. There are considerable remains of these mills, but it is quite hard to distinguish on the ground what might be what until you know what you are looking for. This makes it quite exciting to try to figure out. While we were there another couple appeared and noticed remains of some mills that we had missed.

As the museum model shows, the water fell through sixteen separate small buildings, eight on each side. Each building contained a wheel that was turned by the water, which in turn operated a mill-stone attached to it — ie, each building was one small mill. The water then flowed on to the next wheel downwards, and so on. We found this an astonishing conception and feat of engineering. To complete the imagination and efficiency, it turns out that the wheat ground in the mills here was grown in the Camargue, which Arles overlooks!

The bags of milled flour were apparently carried down from the mills and loaded into barges waiting in a canal below to carry them to Arles. And, of course, the canal used the same water that had ground the wheat!

If you go into Arles, you can complete the story by visiting the cryptoporticus (under the present town hall). It is inexpensive and intriguing; (and if you have also visited Meknes in Morocco, you may be reminded of the enormous granary there). This underground store in Arles seemed to us to have been the obvious place for the Romans to have stored the wheat as it came from the Camargue fields. Then, perhaps, they transported the bags, as needed, to Barbégal to be milled into flour; and then brought it back down by the canal to be stored again in the cryptoporticus, this time ready to be made into bread locally. Having surmised this after our visits, we were rather relieved to find that Edward Mullins makes the same supposition.

Do go here if you can; it is so unusual for tourists like us to be able to visit an important site that is relatively untrodden, and which invites speculation and personal discovery.

15  Thank Rita D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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