Jeff Matthews entry Jan.
The Roman Aqueduct
(item 1, below); the Serino and
(item 2, below)
These two items appeared separately
in the original version of the Around Naples
Encyclopedia on the dates indicated and have
been consolidated onto a single page here.
those who are not claustrophobic—nay, for those who
absolutely revel in their agoraphobia—I recommend a
visit to the Roman aqueduct system that supplied Naples.
It is one of the most impressive feats of engineering
undertaken in Naples during the reign of Caesar
Augustus. The aqueduct was 170 km long and started at a
reservoir fed by the river Serino (see map in item #2,
below). There were two branches: one led to Beneventum
and the other to Neapolis. The one to Naples
approached the city from the slopes of Capodimonte, then went on
to Vomero and to Posillipo, the hill bounding the
western end of the city. From Posillipo, a secondary
branch lead through the hill and to Fuorigrotta and
beyond, to Puteoli, modern day Pozzuoli.
Parts of the aqueduct were open and others were tunnels
through the rock.
Posillipo aqueduct runs parallel to the Roman tunnel
known as the Seiano Grotto and
was apparently built at the same time as the tunnel,
itself. The tunnel is occasionally open for visits. As
far as I know, the aqueduct is not; I know of its
existence only because I was led into it by a crazy
archaeologist friend of mine. It was there that I found
out that I don't particularly like to be cooped up in
tight spaces beneath mountains.
the city of Naples, itself, the water distribution was
by a system of subterranean conduits leading from the
main aqueduct. More recently, during the aerial
bombardment of WW II, the ancient aqueduct was put to
use as an air-raid shelter, the wells and cisterns being
enlarged to allow for the passage of people. There are
underground tours available of the section of the
aqueduct directly below the historic center of the city.
The aqueduct is appropriately dark, deep, and scary.
Visitors are even issued candles to light their descent.
It is also very, very cold, which makes it the perfect
place to visit in July and August. The entrance is from
Piazza Gaetano near the intersection of via
dei Tribunali and via San Gregorio Armeno.
(At #33 on the map of the historic center of the city. Click here.)
entry April 2007
the Serino and Benevento Aqueducts
There, now that I have your attention, this is
Naples is a very old and continuously inhabited center
of large population and, as such, has always required a
generous supply of fresh water. The earliest documented
conduit to supply the ancient city is the so-called
Bolla aqueduct. An 1889 study entitled Topography of the deep
water network of canals, contributing to the study of
the subsoil of Naples by Gugliermo Melisurgo,
claims, however, that "… there remains some mystery as
to its origins". It may have been Roman or, even
earlier—Greek. So, briefly, we don't know. If there were
Etruscan or even Samnite
aqueducts in the area, we don't know that, either.
Suffice it to say that the Bolla was an important
aqueduct in the ancient city and, in spite of being
superseded by later ones, remained important, seeing
service as late as 1947 (!).
The Romans: It
is not evident from looking at the western end of the
Gulf of Naples—that is, the Bay of Pozzuoli—that this is
where the "beautiful people" lived at the time of
Augustus Caesar. After all, who wants a house in
downtown Naples if you have the money to move out near
the mythological roots of the whole gulf, where Ulysses
and Aeneas trod, an area
replete with splendid thermal springs and offshore
islands. At the same time, the area contained Puteoli (Pozzuoli), an
important commercial port; also, nearby Cape Miseno
sheltered one of the best natural harbors on the west
coast of Italy, a perfect place for an imperial fleet.
The Serino and Benevento aqueducts (in
the Avello aqueduct for Pompeii (dotted green line).
© Cees Passchier. Acknowledgment below.)
The Roman aqueduct to supply the idle rich, the
merchants and the imperial sailors with water was
extensive and, indeed, an impressive feat of
engineering. The Romans brought water into the area via
the Aqua Augusta, historically referred to as the Serino
aqueduct. The source was in the Terminio-Tuoro mountains
and was named the Fons Augusteus, now known as
Acquaro-Pelosi, near the town of Santa Lucia di Serino,
due east of Naples, not far from Avellino.
Along its 100 km length to service
Miseno, the aqueduct also passed by Pompeii, Herculaneum and Naples,
with numerous branches from the main aqueduct running in
to provide water to the public and private fountains and
cisterns in those communities. In Naples, the Serino
line passed through a tunnel now known as the "Crypta Napoletana," one of
the Roman tunnels that passed beneath the Posillipo hill
to lead to the Campi Flegrei,
the town of Puteoli and then the target at Miseno, the
largest freshwater cistern ever built by the Romans, the
Piscina Mirabilis (photo, right). The cistern was
dug entirely out of the tuff cliff face and was 15
meters high/deep (ca. 45 feet), 72 meters long (ca. 220
feet), and 25 meters wide (ca.75 feet). The
capacity/volume was 12,000 cubic meters (ca. 36,000
cubic feet). It was supported by vaulted ceilings and 48
pillars. Adjacent to the main cistern at Miseno were a
number of other private cisterns such as the one now
called the Cento Camarelle—
the One Hundred Little Rooms— a group of cisterns
arranged on two levels, possibly the property of the
orator Quintus Hortensius Ortalus.
The ancient aqueducts served the city and
surrounding area until the Spanish vicerealm, when the Carmignano aqueduct
was finished in 1629. It was named for Cesare
Carmingnano, a nobleman who engineered the feat. It
seems to have incorporated a preexisting conduit that
sources say "may have been Roman."
After the unification of Italy and in the wake of severe
hygienic problems in Naples, including outbreaks of
cholera, the decision was made to build a new aqueduct.
It was built between 1881-1885 and was a vital part of
the "Risanamento" — the massive
urban renewal of the city between 1880 and 1915. The
agency that administers the modern Naples aqueduct is
called ARIN, an acronym for Azienda risorse idriche
Napoli (Agency for Water Resources, Naples).
The aqueduct is named the Serino, the same name
as the ancient Roman one. There are actually two groups
of headwaters in the area that are utilized by ARIN: the
Acquaro-Pelosi at 380 meters above sea level and the
Urciuoli at 330 m. The ARIN facility that collects the
water and starts it on its journey is set on about 50
From the 60 meter long Serino canal that brought the
water out from the source, the aqueduct then included
more than 20 bridges along the route to Naples, the
longest of which was 1800 meters. The aqueduct then ran
through a large distribution point in Cancello di
Caserta and made a 22 km run into the two large
municipal cisterns, one at Capodimonte (capacity: 82,000
cubic meters) and the other at Scudillo (capacity:
originally 20,000 m3, then increased to 145,000 m3). The
1885 finished aqueduct was meant to serve the needs of
the population of the city at that time—about 500,000.
With the 1936 expansion, the current capacity permitted
a flow of as high as 2350 liters per second (between
Today, the aqueduct systems have been upgraded to supply
the increasing needs of the city and the northeastern
part of the Campania region. There are now four main
lines that supply water from sources in Lazio, Molise
and Campania. Besides the 1885 aqueduct, there now exist
the Campania aqueduct (1958), the Western Campania
aqueduct (1998) and the Lufrano Aqueduct (ongoing
upgrade). Of historic interest is the post-WW2
resurrection of the ancient Roman Bolla aqueduct to help
supply the city during the drought of 1946-7.
Interestingly, the 1967 work cited below contains this:
"...[supply]...will increase with the completion of the
Campano aqueduct to about 350 liters per person per
day...for a population of 1,425,000, predicted by the
year 2000...the calculations run through to the year
2020 and aim at a sufficient water supply for the
predicted population of 1,650,000."
That is way off; the current (2010) population of Naples
is only about 1,000,000).
I gratefully acknowledge
the following sources for this article:
—The map of the Serino aqueduct remains
the copyrighted property of Cees Passchier and is used
here with his kind permission;
Other City by Antonio Piedimonte (an English
translation by Larry Ray is available on his website)
of NapoliUnderground (with special thanks to
Clemente Espositio and Fulvio Salvi for their
generosity and the above photo of the Piscina mirabilis;
Sottosuolo di Naples [The Subsoil of Naples],
published by the city of Naples (available in Italian
and English on the NUG website, directly above.]
—An excellent article on the Serino
aqueduct (one of a series by Wilke Schram) on his
—The website of ARIN,
the Naples Water Management Board.
to Underground Naples portal