The Park of the Aqueducts
Ancient Rome was called the regina aquarum, or “queen of waters” for a good reason: By the year AD 52, there was enough fresh, potable water flowing into Rome every day to provide over 1,000 liters to each of the nearly one million inhabitants. All of this water was made possible by a certified marvel of ancient architecture: the Roman aqueduct. At its height Rome boasted 11 of these superstructures which added up to some 300 miles of aqueducts transporting water from distant springs (sometimes as far away as 50 miles) into the city. The aqueducts in Rome accomplished this feat without any sort of pumps or generators. Instead, they functioned on the simple principle that water will always move down hill. From their sources in the hills around Rome to the neighborhood fountains in the central Rome, they were built in such a way that they always had a small but regular incline. To build such a structure without any modern tools was a feat in itself, but the fact that some of them are still standing and indeed still in use is nearly unbelievable. Today you can see some of Rome’s most famous aqueducts in the Park of the Aqueducts, just outside of the city on the Appian Way.
Visiting the Park of the Aqueducts: Things to See
The Aqua Claudia
The next time you read about one of the many terrible and depraved acts of the emperor, Caligula, remember that in the brief periods which he wasn’t being a degenerate, he was commissioning some pretty enduring public works. Chief among these is the Aqua Claudia, which is still the most prominent of the ancient Roman aqueducts in the Park of the Aqueducts. It took eleven years and some 30,000 men, many of them slaves, to build but it was generally considered to provide the best water in Rome. A later addition to it under Nero saw it provide 14 Roman districts with water every day.
When you see it, after walking past the Aqua Felice up and a small hill, pay special attention to the cement. Roman cement, or pozzolana, was one of the greatest building innovations in ancient Rome. Strong, sturdy, and able to set even underwater, it was the perfect mortar for anything that needed to last. It’s also the same material used in the dome of the Pantheon.
The Aqua Felice
Though not quite as grand in scale as the Aqua Claudia, the Aqua Felice was the first aqueduct built during the Roman Renaissance, more than 1,000 years after the ancient aqueducts in Rome had been cut by invading Goths. It was commissioned by that great “building pope,” Sixtus V, whose is widely credited as one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Baroque facade that visitors to Rome still see today.
When he wasn’t stamping out crime and restructuring Rome so it would better suit the needs of pilgrims (a plan that almost saw the partial destruction of the Colosseum) Sixtus was creating a new fountain that would eschew the pagan motifs of many of Rome’s older fountains in favor of something strictly Christian. His favorite architect, Domenico Fontana, came up with the Fountain of Moses which also serves as the terminus of the Aqua Felice. Although the fountain itself isn’t particularly well-liked, nor has it ever been, it represents the great urban renewal that took place in Rome during the Renaissance as well as the formidable powers behind it. It is the first aqueduct you see after leaving the parking lot.
Tips for Visiting the Park of the Aqueducts
The park is spread over 15 hectares and, like most public parks, doesn’t close at night so you can visit at any hour of the day, should the fancy strike.
There are no special rules for the park but be careful not to leave any litter and if you happen to see any you might think about picking it up and depositing it in the nearest trashcan.
The Best Time to Visit the Park of the Aqueducts
Because it sits slightly outside of Rome, this park is delightfully empty regardless of the season or time of day. We recommend going for a late afternoon picnic in the park – the setting sun throws pleasing shadows over the aqueducts.
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