Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Hi-tech explorers map Rome's ancient aqueduct

30 October 2013, 06:35

Vicovaro - Armed with laser rangefinders, GPS technology and remote control robots, a group of speleologists is completing the first ever mapping of the aqueducts of ancient Rome on archaeology's "final frontier".

They abseil down access wells and clamber through crevices to access the 11 aqueducts that supplied Rome, which still run for hundreds of kilometres underground and along stunning viaducts.

The mission of these "speleo-archaeologists" is to update the last above-ground map of the network compiled at the beginning of the 20th century by British Roman archaeologist Thomas Ashby.

As he made his way through a perfectly preserved tunnel section of the Acqua Claudia on the grounds of a Franciscan convent in Vicovaro near Rome, Alfonso Diaz Boj said he was "proud" of the study.

"It combines what was the birth of archaeology as a science with the latest instruments available," said Diaz Boj, a member of Sotterranei di Roma (Underground Rome), in a hard hat and torch.

The pick marks of the Roman diggers can still be seen in the limestone of the tunnel completed in 38 AD under the Emperor Claudius and a lawyer of calcification about half a metre off the ground shows where the water level would have been.

"These aqueducts may not be as beautiful as a statue or like some architecture but I think they are important, they are very beautiful," he said.

The ancient waterways were true feats of engineering, which relied solely on gravity to ensure a flow of water which can be seen across what was once the Roman Empire from Germany to North Africa.

‘Ahead of their time’

Their strategic significance is underlined by the fact that Rome had a special magistrate to oversee their maintenance and that the Visigoths cut them off when they were laying siege to the city.

The Acqua Claudia runs 87km from the Simbruini Mountains to the heart of Rome and supplied 2 200L of water a second.

Only one of the aqueducts is still operational today - the Acqua Vergine - which can be accessed in various hidden locations near Rome including a doorway near the Villa Medici that leads down a spiral staircase to the water.

The Acqua Vergine runs for a total of 20km and ends up in the Trevi Fountain, photographed every day by crowds of tourists.

"Underground Rome is a final frontier," said Riccardo Paolucci, another explorer, as he examined a viaduct in a valley near Vicovaro that carried the water further towards the city.

"Water was a fundamental service for hygiene. In a city like Rome, which had a million inhabitants, there were very few epidemics," he said.

"There was a concept of service for the people, for the city. It is a key concept that is maybe lacking not just in modern Rome but globally."

Diaz, Paolucci and the others from Sotterranei di Roma work together with Rome's archaeological authority, helping them understand what can be seen above the ground from what is underneath and inaccessible without specialist equipment.

"We are who we are because of what we have inside and Rome is what it is because of what is underneath it," said Paolucci, a specialist potholer who is also called to emergency incidents or whenever a sinkhole opens up in the city.

The group also organises guided tours and courses, including one on the aqueducts starting next month, and are earning an international reputation. They were commissioned to map the underground remains of ancient Ephesus in Turkey.

Their study of the aqueducts is based on the map made by Ashby, director of the archaeological British School at Rome between 1906 and 1925.

Ashby's signature can be seen scrawled on the wall of a section of the Acqua Marcia aqueduct, which also transits through Vicovaro, alongside graffiti and poems dating back to the 17th century from visitors who stumbled on the ancient waterway.

"Ashby's maps were ahead of their time," Diaz said.

"He went to the villages, to the local trattorias, he spoke to farmers, to hunters. He found what he found thanks to local knowledge," he said.

"It is a technique that we still use today."



Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...