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part III
PART II - how roman aqueducts worked PART IV - from ancient Rome to the contemporary age


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.
viale dell'Acquedotto Alessandrino
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.

via del Nazzareno
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.
via del Nazzareno
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.

via del Quadraro, by via Appia Nuova
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 stones.
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.


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 and page 2 for details and further pictures).
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.
piazza di Porta Maggiore
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 page 3).
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).

S.Stefano Rotondo
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)
via di S.Stefano Rotondo
via di S.Paolo della Croce
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.
via di S.Gregorio

via Turati
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).

piazza del Campidoglio
one of the two "Trophies", now at
the top of the Capitolium's steps
piazza Vittorio Emanuele
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 and Capitolium Square).

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 and 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.
piazzale Sisto V
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.
piazzale Sisto V
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:
But nothing is left of the fountain that once stood by this archway, and welcomed the thirsty travellers who entered Rome from the east.


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