||~ Roman Monographies ~
· part III ·
WHAT CAN BE SEEN TODAY
For centuries the remains of the ancient aqueducts have been one of
the favourite subjects of painters and engravers, although the best preserved parts
obviously stand away from the city's historical districts, in most cases in the countryside.
The only fragment that can be seen in central Rome consists of four white travertine arches
belonging to the Aqua Virgo, below the present street level and interred for most of
their height, located between the buildings in via del Nazzareno, not far from the Trevi
Fountain. In over twenty centuries the ground level has considerably risen, up to the point
of matching the top part of the buried aqueduct.
series of arches of the Aqua Alexandrina
On the same spot, a tiny doorway topped by the crest
of Sixtus IV (1471-84), conceils a passage that leads to the actual duct of the Aqua Virgo.
The passage is still in use for maintainance works, but for obvious reasons it is
kept closed, at all times.
the buried arches of the Aqua Virgo, in central Rome
The purpose of this page, instead, is to point out the few but interesting remains in
the modern suburbs, still within the modern urban boundary, yet well off the "official"
tracks beaten by the tourists.
the passage leading
to the Aqua Virgo's duct
Running the mouse cursor over the pictures in this page, the specific location of their
subjects will be shown.
arches of the Aqua Claudia
After being damaged in the 6th century, the tall viaducts simply turned into
idle and bulky structures, mainly used as a source of spare material such as bricks and
Also earthquakes and wars took part in damaging these structures; this gives reason for the
very few remains now left within the ancient urban boundaries.
Some interesting parts, though, can be seen in the southern and eastern districts, areas now
densely populated, which no longer than a century ago were countryside.
For practical purposes, they are grouped and described according to their location.
AQUEDUCTS BY THE CITY GATES AND THEIR CENTRAL BRANCHES
Before becoming the main south-eastern city gate of Aurelian's wall (3rd century AD
Porta Praenestina, now called Porta Maggiore, was an arch of the
local aqueduct. The same can be said of the next eastern gate, Porta Tiburtina
(see also Aurelian's Walls
, part II, page 1
for details and
In fact, on the spot where water viaducts crossed important roads,
such as the aforesaid ones did by via Praenestina and via Tiburtina, respectively,
special decorated arches were often built to celebrate the emperor who
had sponsored their making. When the set of walls by emperor Aurelian was drawn,
these two arches were incorporated within the new defensive structure. But despite being
turned into gates, they continued acting as ducts, carrying water in the upper part:
the Aqua Marcia, Aqua Tepula and Aqua Iulia ran above Porta Tiburtina, while the Aqua Claudia
and Anio Novus ran above Porta Praenestina.
Porta Praenestina today: two ducts ran above its arches
The area just before Porta Praenestina was the Spes Vetus
, see part II
where five different "waters" converged (actually six, including the underground course of the
Aqua Alexandrina, although its duct has never been found). They conveyed over 70% of Rome's
total water supply: the following diagram shows the direction of these aqueducts according to archaeologist
R.Lanciani (late 19th century), although the graphic 3-dimensional elements
have been taken and adapted from E.Du Perac's map of ancient Rome (1576).
It also shows which parts Sixtus V reused for his Aqua Felix (in brackets), which
ancient parts are still standing, coloured in tan, and which ones are lost, in light grey.
the net of aqueducts in south-eastern corner of Rome: the names of the ancient sites
are in black, in blue are the present ones, and the dots are modern railway lines
The Aqua Marcia, Tepula and Iulia followed Aurelian's wall,
pointing towards Porta Tiburtina. Before reaching the gate, the Aqua Marcia gave off an important branch
called the Rivus Herculaneus
, which might have likely served the nearby nymphaeum
of the Licinii family, more commonly known as Temple of Minerva Medica
(see Aurelian's Walls
, part 2
The Rivus Herculaneus carried water to the Coelian Hill, in the south of republican Rome, and then
ran underground, parallel to the earlier Aqua Appia, reaching the Aventine Hill (south-west).
Nothing of this branch has survived, except segments of the underground duct.
By Porta Tiburtina the aqueduct diverged from Aurelian's wall, following its own
viaduct and pointing towards the Quirinal Hill, i.e. northbound. In the late 16th century,
this became a part of the newborn Aqua Felix.
In the late 1800s, though, due to the making of the nearby Termini Station,
every part of the viaduct beyond this spot was taken down. Only its first 100 metres
(or yards) were left standing; they end with an arch celebrating Sixtus V, now adjoining
the railway's precincts in piazzale Sisto V.
Instead the Aqua Claudia and the even richer Anio Novus shared the same main output,
located very close to Porta Praenestina, although the last remains of their castellum
disappeared in the late 1800s.
the Arcus Neroniani, or Arcus Caelimontani
Before reaching its main output, also the Aqua Claudia gave off a large branch that
emperor Nero had originally built for his Golden House, whence its old name Arcus Neroniani
"arches of the Neros" (Nero was a family name of the gens Claudia
When the Golden House was dismantled, the branch was altered to reach the Coelian and
Aventine hills, and renamed Arcus Caelimontani
, i.e. "arches of the Caelimontium
ancient Rome's second district, which included the Coelium and its minor reliefs (see also
The 22 Rioni
). this caused the aforesaid
Rivus Herculaneus to become obsolete.
A further extension of this branch for the Palatine hill, in central Rome, was built by
emperor Diocletian (late 3rd century).
above: the church of S.Stefano Rotondo,
in a 17th century map of Rome; the remains
of the aqueduct, that mark the church's
precincts, are still standing today (right)
the Arch of Dolabella and Silanus
The first part of the Arcus Caelimontani can be followed
more or less up to the Lateran grounds, while only few fragments of the further
part are left along the Coelian Hill, especially by the church of S.Stefano Rotondo.
Just past the church, a few tall arches of the aqueduct touch the site where
once stood Porta Caelimontana, one of the gates belonging to the set of
Servian Walls (4th century BC). In 10 AD
two consuls, mentioned in an inscription above the archway, altered the passage
into its present shape; after their names, this is still known as
Arch of Dolabella and Silanus.
Curiously, inside one of the aqueduct's pillars are two rooms, in which St.John
de Matha (1160-1213), founder of the Order of the Trinitaries, or New Crusaders,
dwelt for two years.
The last few fragments of the Arcus Caelimontani can be
seen some 200 metres or yards further west, integrated by a modern brick texture,
as they cross the valley formed by the Coelian and Palatine Hills (now corresponding
to via di San Gregorio, that runs downhill from the Colosseum towards the
southern end of the Circus Maximus). Beyond this spot, the aqueduct reached
its final destination: the imperial complex on the Palatine.
Since in ancient Rome this was a rather busy district, secondary branches of
the Arcus Caelimontani very likely carried water to the fountains of the
Circus Maximus, to the establishments that stood along the banks of the Tiber,
that runs by the opposite end of the stadium, and so on.
the aqueduct in via Turati
From the main course of the aqueducts that followed
Rome's eastern wall, a further duct branched off by Porta Tiburtina.
Its only short surviving part now crosses via Turati, on the other side of the
railway station; its direction points towards the nearby remains of a huge
fountain, the nymphaeum of Alexander Severus (see below).
Once believed to be a branch of the Aqua Iulia, from the height of its specus
now scholars mantain that it might have been reached either by the Aqua Claudia
or by the Anio Novus.
The ruins of the aforesaid nymphaeum stand in the
garden of piazza Vittorio Emanuele. The fountain was popularly named "Marius' Trophies" after the original
decorations that once stood on its sides, featuring barbaric weapons, shields and armour.
By tradition, they were believed to celebrate general Marius Gaius' victories against barbaric
populations (101-102 BC).
one of the two "Trophies", now at
the top of the Capitolium's steps
the remains of "Marius' Trophies",
likely reached by the Aqua Claudia or Anio Novus
In recent times, though, the "trophies" have been found
to be less old, dating to the late 3rd century AD
which means that they had been probably taken away from some other monument or statue.
In the late 16th century, pope Sixtus V had them removed from the remains of the fountain,
and relocated on the Capitolium Hill, at the top of the flight of steps drawn
by Michelangelo (a description and pictures of the site can be found in The 22 Rioni
Just past Porta Tiburtina, the triple aqueduct's course made a westward bend, diverging from the straight line followed by the city walls (actually, it would be correct to say that the walls diverged from the aqueducts, since the latter were built earlier). From this spot the aqueducts ran to their water castles, located somewhere in the northern part of Rome; one of them probably stood by the Baths of Diocletian. What we see today on this spot, though, is the late 16th century viaduct built under pope Sixtus V, who took advantage of the ancient roman structures, still partly standing, and literally recycled them for the making of his project, the Aqua Felix, whose main output, or "display" fountain, was built some 350-400 metres or yards off this spot (see part III page 2
Fountains part III page 6
for further details).
But by the time the Termini railway station was built, around 1870, also the Renaissance aqueduct had turned into a bulky relic.
Therefore, since it crossed the site of the newborn station, it was taken
down for most of its length. From the spot where the
Aqua Felix (built out of the ancient Aqua Marcia) branches off the city wall,
only a few metres of the acqueduct were left standing, as the picture shows.
the archway of Sixtus V, just before the station (on the left)
Fortunately, the spared stretch includes the "special" double-sided
archway that Sixtus V had built on the spot where travellers coming to
Rome along via Tiburtina would have likely crossed his Aqua Felix.
the archway's inscription (1587)
As the other
surviving one, known as Porta Furba (described in part III page 2
also this one has the lion's head from the pope's crest and a marble inscription that says:
SIXTUS V POPE
BUILT AT HIS EXPENSES
THE DUCT OF THE AQUA FELIX
BY UNDERGROUND FLOW
FOR 13 MILES,
BY ARCHWAY VIADUCT FOR 7
But nothing is
left of the fountain that once stood by this archway, and welcomed the thirsty
travellers who entered Rome from the east.