A Roman bridge – one of only two ‘inhabited’ bridges in France – is to be evacuated to prevent it collapsing.
The Pont des Marchands in Narbonne, in the south west, dates from the first century and, along with the Pont De Rohan in Landerneau in Finistère, is unusual in that it is also the site of several buildings.
“It provides the link between the old and new towns,” said Guy Clergue, deputy mayor in charge of local buildings.
“It is an important passage for local residents, and the central route through the town.”
Studies into the buildings on the bridge found water infiltration, rotten floorboards, fungi, and other signs of disrepair, putting the entire structure at risk.
The central part of the bridge, which is pedestrianised, will be closed, and boats will not be able to travel underneath via the canal, while the owners of 18 buildings will be made to undertake urgent repair work.
The local economy is expected to suffer as a main shopping street is split in two, but authorities have promised to work with shopkeepers to find nearby temporary rental locations.
“For a long time, the shops belonged to Narbonne residents, who took care of them.
But in recent years they have been bought by investors looking to make money, and the work has not been done,” said Mr Clergue.
“The Roman stone bridge is in good condition, contrary to the shop buildings, dating from the 13th or 14th century.”
The work is expected to last several months, although the town hopes to reopen the bridge within two months.