If you have already seen the main sights of Rome it is worth a visit to see one the sights off the beaten path: the Aqueduct Park. On the Appian Way this park is a chance to see how the ancient city got its water. Roman historian Pliny described the aqueducts as “greatest wonder the world has ever seen.” They are some of the finest example of Roman engineering skill.
Aqueducts are not that complicated in theory. Water sinks to its lowest level. Running water down a slope from one point to another was a concept widely known. But the practice of creating an aqueduct was much more difficult. The Romans engineered their aqueducts to approach their cities on a gradual declining gradient. The gradient was only several inches every 100 feet. The slope of the aqueduct had to be calculated over great distances, sometimes up to 30-40 miles from the source in the mountains to cities. The slope had to be consistant, it couldn’t be deviated from regardless of the terrain. To maintain the water’s precise descent through high mountains Roman engineers dug perfectly angled tunnels through them. When the pipeline reached low valleys they were elevated on stone walls. If the walls needed to be higher than 6 1/2 feet off the ground the Romans saved building materials while still adding strength by perfecting an ancient engineering concept: the arch.
After reaching the city each aqueduct emptied into three holding tanks. One for the public drinking fountains, a second for the public baths and a third reserved for the emperor and other wealthy Romans who paid for their own running water, a concept that was well ahead of its time. The water from the aqueducts washed out the human filth and kept the city clean. One of reasons ancient Romans felt they were superior to everyone else is because they were cleaner.
The aqueducts were the Achilles’ heel of Rome. To destroy the city all you had to do was take down one of the arches. In the 6th century the Barbarians did just that. Without water Rome basically shriveled up. Today the park is a favorite with locals for biking, running or just taking a family stroll.
Aqueduct Park (Parco degli Acquedotti), part of the Parco Appia Antica
Entrance: Via Lemonia, 256 (map)