Rome’s Aqueducts

Parco Degli Aquedotti

Parco Degli Aquedotti

The weather is starting to cool down with daytime temperatures around 15C dropping to around 10C at night. The Swiss Guards have donned their capes and the Romans are wearing coats and boots! There are more days that are cloudy and wet but other than this there are still days of brilliant sunshine, blue skies and temperatures closer to 20C.

Aqua Claudia

Aqua Claudia

Last Sunday was one of these and we went to Parco degli Aquedotti for a walk. This is a large protected green area which is about 8km from the centre of Rome and is part of the Appian Way. It’s like being in the countryside as one can see sheep grazing in parts of it. The park is so named because the roman aqueducts Aqua Felice  and Aqua Claudia traverse a good length of it. Those of you who have seen the movie La Dolce Vita might remember the opening scene in which a statue of Christ suspended from a helicopter is flying along an aqueduct. This was the Aqua Claudia which was started by the Emperor Caligula in 38 AD and finished by the Emperor Claudius some 20 years later.

Broken section of Aqua Claudia

Broken section of Aqua Claudia

The Roman aqueducts are truly a marvel of engineering.  They are fed by underground wells and springs (some, hundreds of miles from Rome) and were designed such that the water flowed constantly and ensured a constant supply of spring water through the city. They work on a system of gradients and gravity such that the water is always flowing down an incline. There are often two water channels so that one could be closed off for repairs. The major part of them are underground and the overhead aqueducts which we see only form a small part.

The Romans built 11 aqueducts but almost all were destroyed  by invading Germanic tribes, who wanted to cut off Rome’s water supply. Many were rebuilt by various Popes during the Renaissance to restore the water supply to the city and also to supply their ornamental fountains like the Trevi which is why you will often see a Pope’s name inscribed over a large fountain. Now there are 6 to 8 functioning aqueducts in Rome feeding all its many fountains (see Rome’s fountains).

1385149517344Although Rome is full of fountains, one rarely knows exactly which aqueduct is feeding which fountain. Aqua Virgo, one of the oldest, was completed in 19 BC during the reign of the Emperor Augustus and is one of the few which remained utterly intact by virtue of being underground for all of its 22 or so miles. Re-named the Aqua Vergine by Pope Nicholas V in 1453, it feeds the Trevi, the fountains of Piazza Navona and most of the fountains in the Campus Martius including a little one which you see if take the path going from the Tiber towards the Spanish Steps. It may be sunny in Rome but its not that warm so it was quite surprising to see this young man, obviously not a homeless person,  stripped to the waist washing himself in virgin water. Perhaps he was hoping to meet a few!

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