The Roman Aqueduct: Who Knew Plumbing Could Be So Beautiful?

Roman Aqueduct

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Yesterday, I covered the breath-taking Cascata della Marmore, which is the world’s tallest manmade waterfall. The ancient Romans are responsible for creating this pseudo-natural wonder, which is an impressive feat in its own right. The crazy thing is that a 541-foot waterfall isn’t even the most impressive contribution that the Romans made to the world of aquatic architecture.

You see, Rome didn’t mess around. When they weren’t out conquering the entire known world, they were busy inventing philosophy, building jaw-dropping temples, setting up government systems that would eventually inspire modern democracies, and just generally being awesome. So when the city of Rome needed more water, they weren’t about to sit around and bemoan their fate. Instead, they built aqueducts.

Segovia Aqueduct

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These aqueducts operated on a very simple principle. Basically, the Romans just built an extremely long canal that was taller at one end and gradually became shorter until it reached the city. They didn’t bother with complicated pressure systems or pumps — they just let gravity do its thing. These aqueducts siphoned water off of natural bodies of water, such as lakes and springs, and dumped the water into cisterns (large buildings for storing water) to promote public health.

The abundance of water allowed Rome to flourish, so much so that it was eventually able to sustain a population of over a million happy citizens. To put that into perspective, that’s bigger than the current population of San Francisco with an estimated population of about 810,000 people.

San Francisco

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Yep, that’s San Francisco. Now imagine that without skyscrapers or electricity. If that doesn’t help you grasp just how powerful the Roman Empire was, then nothing will.

If you asked any historian, they would say that the Roman aqueducts helped to shape the world by setting the framework for future urban plumbing and by promoting good sanitation. Of course, people don’t spend thousands of dollars on a plane ticket to Europe for a lesson in ancient plumbing. Aqueducts have become a tourist attraction for their timeless charm and beautiful arches.

The famous Aqueduct of Segovia, for example, is a Roman aqueduct that still stands in Spain. It carries water 10 miles from the Frio River to the nearby city of Segovia. This thing was built thousands of years ago and it’s still fully operational today. Good luck finding a product on the modern market that even comes close to matching that kind of warranty.


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