Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Aqueducts that enabled an empire

Aqueducts map courtesy of http://www.aqueducthunter.com
The second century Roman
Emperor Trajan.  Photo by
Mary Harrsch.
Although remnants of some of the first aqueducts dating to the early Iron Age have been found in the Middle East, the Romans brought aqueduct engineering to an art form beginning with the  Aqua Appia, built in 312 BCE.  At the height of the Roman Empire, the city of Rome, with inhabitants numbering an estimated one million people, was served by over 500 miles of aqueducts.  But, by the time of Trajan, the so-called "Optimus Princeps", the Romans' complex system of water delivery was falling into disrepair. 


 "... the existing aqueducts at that time came from the east of Rome, the sources were from rivers or springs providing water that carried dissolved salts that were deposited inside and eventually blocked the pipes and ducts, and also sometimes carried very large amounts of silt that blocked the ducts and reduced the water flow." - AqueductHunter.com


So Trajan commissioned his magistrate of public works, Sextus Julius Frontinus, to construct a new aqueduct sourced by  fresh water springs distributed in the mountains around the volcanic lake known as the Lacus Sabatinus, known today as Lake Bracciano. 


 The Aqua Traiana was inaugurated in 109 CE and is thought to have supplied water to Trajan's new bath 
The southwestern exedra of the Baths of Trajan...Remains of the Baths of Trajan.  Image via Wikipediacomplex, a naumachia (entertainment complex where mock naval battles were reenacted)  in the area that would become later known as the Vatican and grain mills high on the Janiculum Hill.  



The Aqueduct arrives in Rome at the top of the Janiculum Hill at a high level above the city. In order to reach Trajan's Baths on the top of the Colle Oppio and the storage cisterns known as the Sette Sale, the aqueduct probably crossed the river Tiber on a large stone bridge or just possibly under the river in a syphon made with lead pipes. 
The archaeologist Prof. Rabun Taylor from the University of Texas proposes that the aqueduct crossed the tiber on a high stone structure close to the Children's Hospice building at the Porto di Ripa Grande, and curved around the Aventine Hill before turning north towards the Colle Oppio, the hill adjacent to the Colosseum, and the site of Trajan’s baths. Some evidence of the structural arches can be seen on the 1551 map of Leonardo BuffaliniAqueductHunter.com
The system would serve Rome, despite sporadic damage from various barbarian incursions, until the 9th or 10th centuries.  Later, it would be restored in 1612 by Pope Paulo V (Borgese) and renamed the Aqua Paola.  
 "Various Cardinals were sent to the Lake Bracciano area to investigate the strength and value of the local water sources throughout the sixteenth century, and the result was the deed of purchase by Pope Paul V of most of the sources which had comprised the Aqua Traiana." 
"However some veins of the aqueduct were specifically excluded from the purchase because by then they were supplying water for other purposes. Specifically the Aqua della Fiora was being used to supply the Bracciano grain mill which the local Duke, Paolo Giordano Orsini had caused to be constructed at Vigna Grande in 1578...The result was an aqueduct with a significantly lower yield than in Trajan’s day."
 "...in its first incarnation [the Aqua Paola] was not nearly as copious as in Trajan's time, and by 1673, it was supplemented instead by dirty lake water. 
For this reason, in modern Roman slang, something or someone of dubious worth is sometimes referred to as 'as good as the Acqua Paola'. " AqueductHunter.com


At some point a small church was built over one of the primary sources of water for the Aqua Traiana near Lake Bracciano and obscured the Roman constructions beneath it.  But it was shown on a map from the year 1718 and it was this map found in the state archives, that peaked the interest of modern day aqueduct hunters, UK filmmakers Ted and Mike O'Neill, Lorenzo Quilici, Professor of Topography at the University of Bologna,  professor and historical map scholar Allan Ceen, archaeologist Raybun Taylor and Katherine W. Rinne, adjunct professor of architecture at the California College of the Arts. The group then decided to collaborate on a project to explore and film the second century Roman remains.



They have published much of their findings and images of their discoveries on their website AqueductHunter.com.  It's a fascinating read and I encourage you to explore the site fully.  The team is not sponsored by any particular institution so if you wish to become involved in their work, they welcome contributions or corporate or academic sponsorship.  


Their initial explorations are also documented in the film clip below.




The Emperor's Sacred Spring - 7 minute HD trailer from MEON HDTV PRODUCTIONS on Vimeo.


Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply (Duckworth Archaeology)   History -- Modern Marvels Aqueducts: Man Made Rivers of   Guide to the Aqueducts of Ancient Rome   Trajan: Optimus Princeps (Roman Imperial Biographies)


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