URBEM FECISTI - ENGINEERING 3 | Bed and Rome and Breakfast

mercoledì 31 maggio 2017


Aqua Claudia

The articles of the series Urbem Fecisti are dedicated to the way Rome has shaped the modern world, to its modernity. It's a fact that Roman Empire is still living inside each of us in the western world and not only.

Water Supply - Roman Aqueducts

Have you ever observed how many fountains there are in Rome, no matter if monumental and famous all over the world like Trevi Fountain, or simple and small ones at the corner of the streets?
What is the reason for that? The fact is that fountains have been built over the centuries to be the terminal of aqueducts.

We have already seen that the construction of an efficient sewer system was on of the first steps of the urbanization of Rome. In the first four centuries sice the foundatiion of the city, the supply of fresh water was ensured by the Tiber river, well and by wells and springs located inside the city.
However, at the end of the IV century BC, Rome reached a size that made the existing water supply not big enough to satisfy its population.
Appius Claudius

Appius Claudius was the censor that, along with the Appian Way, took care of the construction of the first aqueduct delivering fresh water to Rome from the countryside, the Aqua Appia.
Appius Claudius has played an important role in the Roman history. Apart from being an important politician, he was the first among the aristocratic people to have an interent in literature and philosophy, especially the Greek ones. Up to his time those activities were considered not appropriate for a high level citizen. He is the author of the sentence "every man is the architect of his own fortune" (Latin: quisque faber suae fortunae) that is contained in a speech given at the Senate, the first known roman political speech, when Pyrrhus, king of Epyrus, asked to Rome to surrender to him after that he defeated the Roman army in several fights. Appius Claudius declared that Rome will never surrender and, as a matter of facts, later was able to defeat Pyrrhus. By the way another common saying, still largely used, was born at that time, and that is Pyrrihic victory, meaning a victory that is extemely devastating for the victor, becoming the first step to the final defeat.

Over the centuries several other aqueducts were built. Overall there were 11 aqueducts that were delivering to Rome an amount of water per person that was almost double of the amount that is currently available. They were serving almost 1300 public fountains, 15 monumental fountains, 900 pools, 11 publict baths and also private houses. The aristocratic families had normally water delivered into their domus. The popular houses, insulae, had often a fountain in the internal courtyard where people had the possibilty to get it with buckets.

The aqueducts were normally built undergroud, with bridges used only to overcome natural obstacles or when it was necessary to keep a constant slope. The material used to build the water channel was normally ceramic then covered with cement. Water was flowing only by gravity and a great precision was necessary to ensure a regular flow, keeping also into account that the elevation difference between the source and the final destination was often very small. When compared to other construction techniques that were used by ancient Romans, we have an excellent knowledge of those that were used for the aqueducts thanks to Sextus Julius Frontinus that was curator aquarum  (water commisioner of the aqueducts) in the late I century AD and that has left a detailed treatise, De aqeductu, about them.

Aqueduct of Valens, Istanbul
Actually, the construction of aqueducts was not limited to the city of Rome, but it was an activity covering all the Empire.
The most complex system of water supply was built in Constatinopole (the modern Istanbul) that became the new capital of the Empire under Constantine I. The total lenght of the system was over 250 km. The most famous parts of it are the underground Basilica Cistern, and the bridge called Aqueduct of Valens, that was built under Emperor Valens. the bridge is crossing the modern Ataturk Bulvari, one of the street with the highest volume of traffic in Istanbul. Even with several maintenance works, this distribution system has supplied water to Istanbul till 1912.
Pont du Gard

The two most famous aqueduct bridges are not in Rome; one is in France, Pont du Gard, close to Nimes, and the other in Segovia, Spain. The aqueduct of Segovia has been in use till few years ago. Some cracks due to acid rains have caused water leakage and, to avoid more damages, the aqueduct has been put out of service.
Segovia Aqueduct

Trevi Fountain
Anyhow, in Rome, there is one of the ancient aqueducts still in use, the Aqua Virgo. It is the one that is supplying water to the Trevi Fountain, to the Barcaccia Fountain in Piazza di Spagna and to the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona.
Also nowadays, the strict relationship among Rome and aqueducts is evidenced by the fact that the water supply to the city is ensured by a system getting water from springs not suffering drought and providing good quality, although hard, water. For comparison, bisg cities like Paris and London are using mainly purified river water.

Porta Maggiore
Trofei di Mario
When you visit Rome, look around and you will see several pieces of old aqueducts all around. a lot are concentrated at Porta Maggiore that, by the way was a monumental part of the Aqua Claudia.
The construction that is know as Trofei di Mario and that is located in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, was part of the city distribution system. It was collecting the incoming water into a settling pool to remove any debris and then distributing it to the final destination.

Park of the Aqueducts
Don't miss the also the Park of the Aqueducts, a urban natural park where there the remains of seven old aqueducts, including one built in the XVI century, essentially reconstucting the ancient Aqua Marcia.
From Termini station it may be reached with  the A line of the subway till the Lucio Sestio or Giulio Agricola or Subaugusta stations and using one of the entrances located in Via Lemonia.

St. John Villa
San Lorenzo Guest House
Villa Borghese Guest House

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