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Pont-Saint-Martin

In the footsteps of Roman legions, a bridge that defies history

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Where is

Valle d'Aosta

Ponte Romano, Via Roma, 84, 11026 Pont-Saint-Martin AO, Italia (355m s.l.m.)

Directions
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What it is and where it is

Pont-Saint-Martin is the first village in the Aosta Valley that one encounters on the right as one travels up the Dora Baltea. The town developed in Roman times along the Strada delle Gallie around the bridge that crosses the Lys stream, a historic point of transition between plain and mountain. On the slopes all around: the characteristic pergola vines on stone pillars where the Piedmontese Nebbiolo wine, here called Picotendro, acquires a characteristic accent at its first contact with the Alpine climate. Behind the village is the Gressoney valley and the spectacular mass of Monte Rosa, with all that that entails in terms of leisure (from hiking to skiing) and typicality (not to be missed, the Gressoney toma cheese).

Why it is special

The Roman bridge is a work of engineering from the 1st century BC. It has amazing measurements-35 meters wide and 25 meters high-and is the only one of its kind left intact (with the devil's paw, according to popular belief). Conformed to "mule backs," it preserves on the ridge an original section of the Roman road: stone slabs marked by the grooves of countless wheels. Such was the importance of the place that the settlement was originally called simply Ad Pontem; only in the Middle Ages would it also come to be associated with St. Martin, who had a very heartfelt cult in the valley, patron saint of travelers, certainly, but also of vintners.

Not to be missed

After the customary photos above and below the bridge, don't miss the opportunity to visit the small museum that details it, between history and legend. As for the calendar, there is the picturesque weekly market on Saturdays: about fifty stalls right in the square on the riverfront. Then there are the big occasions: the Carnival, with the historical re-enactment in Roman style of the founding of the bridge; theAncient and Great Fair, the main event of the Lower Valley, held in May; and the St. Martin's Fair, dedicated to agriculture, held around November 11.

A bit of history

Providing a historical backdrop to the visit is the Route of the Gauls, commissioned in the first century B.C. by Emperor Augustus to connect the Po Valley to the northwestern transalpine regions. The new road started from Mediolanum (Milan), passed through Augusta Eporedia (Ivrea) reaching Augusta Praetoria (Aosta) where it bifurcated: on one side it climbed Alpis Graia (Little St. Bernard) towards Lyon; on the other side it crossed L'Alpis Pœnina (Great St. Bernard) towards today's Swiss Valais. A short but well-preserved section of the Route of the Gauls is located a few kilometers upstream from Pont-Saint-Martin, at Donnas, which by the way is worth a stop for its excellent Doc wines.

Curiosities

From the bridge, or strolling along the stream, it is easy to observe brown trout, characteristic for the lively punctuation on their flanks, but it is also possible to spot a small bird with surprising behavior: the dipper (Cinclus cinclus), which actually resembles a common blackbird (Turdus merula), were it not for the flashy white chinstrap and the habit of diving into the icy waters of the streams, literally swimming by with the stroke of its wings, to feed on small invertebrates. Once it resurfaces, the dipper moves with a direct, swift flight: following it one might discover its nest, often hidden behind small waterfalls that the bird penetrates without as if it were nothing.

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Recommended by
Francesco Soletti

There is something special about ancient bridges ... when then the stones tell of Roman legions and medieval pilgrims ...

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