Roman aqueducts were a remarkable feat of engineering. They were built to last, and many are still standing today. and many are still visible today. One of the best places to see ancient aqueducts in Rome is in the Parco degli Acquedotti. But why were these structures needed, and what is there for the visitor to see?
Building Roman Aqueducts
Wherever towns are built, there is a need to supply people with water. Earlier civilisations had devised methods of harvesting, filtering and storing water. However, the Romans expanded this technology by building aqueducts. While their preference was for underground tunnels, this was not always possible in mountainous areas where water had to be transported across valleys. This led to the building of long arched structures topped by water conduits.
You can still see the remains of aqueducts at many places around the former Roman empire. One of the most famous is in Segovia in Spain.
Aqueducts Of Rome
As the largest city in the Roman empire, Rome required a vast amount of water. The first aqueduct – the Aqua Appia – was constructed in 312 BCE. The Romans built a total of eleven aqueducts in the city, the last being Aqua Traiana, in 109 CE.
During the 6th century Ostrogoth invaders destroyed parts of Rome’s aqueducts. This was a deliberate attempt to deprive the citizens of water. However, sections of many of the Roman structures remain, and can be seen today. And the Aqua Virgo is still in use. It feeds many of the city’s fountains, including the famous Trevi Fountain.
New aqueducts were built in later centuries. The most recent was the Acquedotto Appio-Alessandrino, in 1965.
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Parco Degli Acquedotti
The Parco Degli Acquedotti (part of the Appian Way Regional Park) contains long stretches of two aqueducts. The Aqua Claudia, one of the most important aqueducts of ancient Rome, was built in the 1st century CE to satisfy an increased demand for water for baths. It ran for 69 km, mostly underground, from the springs of the Arno Valley, in the hills beyond Tivoli, to the Palatine Hill.
The Aqua Felice is more recent, having been built in 1586. However, it incorporated sections of the ancient Aqua Marcia. The Aqua Claudia and Aqua Felice/ Aqua Marcia intersect in the Parco di Torre Fiscale, very close to the Aqueduct Park.
Visiting The Aqueduct Park
As well as the aqueducts, the Parco degli Acquedotti incorporates a small section of the Via Latina. This was the Roman road that ran to Campania, pre-dating the nearby Via Appia Antica. Quite apart from the Roman remains, the park is a pleasant place for a peaceful stroll. When I visited there were just a few joggers and dog walkers and – bizarrely – hundreds of bright green parakeets.
To get to Parco degli Acquedotti take the metro (Line A) to Subaugusta. The park is a 10-15 minute walk from the station. Alternatively, you can take a guided tour of the Appian Way and the Aqueducts.
Where Else Can You See Aqueducts In Rome?
Although the best sections are in the Aqueduct Park, you can find fragments of Roman aqueducts elsewhere in the city. The Porta Maggiore, one of the gates in the 3rd century city walls, was originally a support for two structures: Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus. It is still possible to see the two separate water channels above the gate. When visiting the Porta Maggiore look out too for the Tomb of the Baker, a large and unusual Roman tomb from the 1st century BCE.
Elsewhere, the Arch of Drusus (close to the Appian Way Park) was once a part of the Aqua Antoniniana.
While you are in Rome, why not have a look at some of the city’s other Lesser Known Roman Sites.