The sun is shining, the wind is blowing a nice cool breeze, and the trees are beginning to bloom. Yes, finally Spring is here in Rome. So what better way to celebrate this gorgeous weather than to explore Rome, soak up some rays, and learn about probably the most captivating feature of the city; the innovative technologies in the use of water. We met up with Katherine Rinne; whom I would have to say is the expert on water in Rome and she was gracious enough to share her experience and knowledge of the famous aqueducts in Rome.
Let’s face it, without water, Rome would not have existed. In order to have sustained an urban landscape such as this one, the manipulation of the hydrological elements and the developments of hydraulic elements were key for the survival of this city. Just like Goldie Locks, it could not be too much or too little water, it had to be just right; any wrong variation could mean the destruction of the city. The dynamic water system is all integrated together to deliver water in various areas of the city; all depending on who was paying for what water, and how it was being used, stored, and distributed (of course all depending on someone’s political/social agenda).
The history of aqueducts is so vast that we were only able to cover a small portion of it in a short three hour stroll. To touch on a few important factors of the ever-changing development, we discussed the time period, around the 14th and 15th century when the ancient Roman aqueducts were being restored. Three gravity- flow aqueducts were added to the existing ancient sources: the Acqua Vergine, Acqua Felice, and the Acqua Paola, bringing pure potable water to the city and supplying around ninety new fountains built in the city. The slope of an aqueduct had to be perfect, usually a low gradient of 1 to 4800. If the slope was too small, and the water did not move fast enough, the build- up of bacteria and minerals would make the water undrinkable. Typically when you think of aqueducts in Rome, you picture the large spans of arches running into the city, but a lot of the infrastructure of aqueducts are actually fed underground. The volume of the space for the underground works had to be tall and wide enough to fit a person inside; you can only imagine what kind of engineering it took to build them.
With the thoughts of water, aqueducts, and fountains running through my head, it was all too perfect that two days later we took a trip out to Tivoli. At Hadrian’s Villa, I was fascinated by how they strategically placed the large pools of water to take advantage of evaporative cooling (I’m sure that’s not what they called it then, but all the same). The Canopus was an area used for banquets on those hot summer days. Walking under the covered partial dome at the end of pool, you instantly feel the temperature drop. It felt absolutely wonderful standing there in the shade. The long pool at the entrance of the villa, which was originally surrounded by a colonnade was rumored to have been designed around the time it takes to digest food. This is said to be seven laps around the pool.
The villa sits in the perfect location for water resources. The hill is surrounded by two streams and springs from the hills behind Tivoli that provided water to four aqueducts in Rome. All of them helped supply the large amount of water needed for the baths, fountains and pools in the complex.
The same water sources used in Hadrian’s Villa, also feeds into the amazing water works at Villa D’Este. With fountains, water jets, hidden grottos, troughs, cascades, and a water organ, Villa D’ Este felt like a Renaissance waterpark. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had an hour bus ride back to Rome, I think we might have jumped in the pools and danced through the streaming water jets. The music coming from the 16th century water and air powered musical fountain was mesmerizing. We spent hours laying in the sunshine, on one of three large pools, trying to understand how the incredible engineering of this little oasis works.
The infrastructures it took to create these villas are just some of the examples of the impressive ways in which water has been used throughout the history of Rome to create wonderful spaces. Though water is something we usually look over when designing, it certainly has one of the greatest impacts on the urban environment. It helps control and shape public spaces, and is ultimately what is needed to sustain life. Romans certainly were ahead of their time in the unbelievable ways they were able to manipulate and move water to the city.