Aqua Augusta (Naples), Italy | CruiseBe
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Aqua Augusta (Naples)

History and museums
aqueduct, history, culture, sightseeing 

The Aqua Augusta or Serino Aqueduct was a Roman aqueduct which supplied water to eight cities in the Bay of Naples, including Pompeii, Stabiae and Nola.The purpose of the Augusta was to supply water for major ports and to bring Campania and its influential inhabitants onside by providing towns and villas with water. This aqueduct was unlike any they usually built, which were almost always focused in one urban center. The Augusta was more of a regional network that supplied the 8 citites as well as many more villas. There were ten branches that supplied the water. Seven of these branches brought water to the cities while three brought water to the villas. It started near the modern town of Serino, 371 meters above sea level, and terminated, after 96 km, in the Piscina Mirabilis at the naval base and port, Portus Julius, of Misenum, not far above sea level. Including the branches, the total length of the aqueduct was approximately 140 km, making it the longest single Roman aqueduct until the 5th century AD. The aqua Augusta was one of the most difficult and costly aqueducts ever constructed by an ancient civilization. Despite its size and complexity, the Augusta has been largely ignored by the historians who studied this time period. The Emperor Augustus (or more likely his close friend and ally Agrippa) built the Aqua Augusta between 30 and 20 BC. The aqueduct's source was the Terminio- Tuoro mountains, just outside the city of Avellino in the Campania region.

The route of the aqueduct is well known thanks to the writings of two Italian engineers, who were asked to see if it could be brought back to use as the main water supply of Naples in the 16th century. Since the duct covered such a wide area of land, there were obviously difficulties that the Romans encountered when building it. They had mountains standing in their way, where they had to make 2 km tunnels so the water could flow through. Once it reached the Campanian plains there were fewer problems with the route. However they still had to deal with ground movement due to volcanoes and a sea crossing to an island. Due to the length and difficulty, the Augusta probably took around a decade to plan and 1–2 years of non-military spending to complete.

The diversion of the majority of the water of the Acquaro and Pelosi springs out of the Sabato river basin from the Augusta, combined with the use of another larger spring just downstream for an aqueduct, would have reduced the river’s flow rate by more than half in its upper reaches. This would have negatively impacted the river’s health, particularly in summer. Irrigation in the centuriated area along the river would have been affected. This would mean fish stocks would have been reduced, removing a source of income and dietary protein from those who could least afford to lose it.

Not only was the Augusta controlled by the more important local towns, there is also evidence that the imperial administration had some control over the aqueduct during this time period. There is proof that an overwhelming number of private users were members of the Rome senatorial class. This suggests that the people in power could have the ability to access a private connection to the Augusta. In Rome, a letter from the emperor was required to gain a private connection and it seems that imperial favor was also a factor in accessing the Augusta’s water. In 79 AD, the eruption of the volcano,Vesuvius, left the aqueduct covered in ash because of the direction of the winds. The next major eruption came in 472 AD and left the Augusta completely covered in ash and 3.5 km of the duct had collapsed because of this. This problem cut off the whole supply of water to all the towns except for Nola and Acerrae. The poor administrative and economic situation in Campania, and Italy in general, would have prevented major repairs to the Augusta during this time. It seems that the Augusta ceased to supply any of its towns in the fifth century, and written references to an aqueduct in Naples after this time refer to other aqueducts that were now in the area. Little remains of the aqueduct today, although traces of the original structure may be found at a number of sites, including several in and around Naples as well as the well-preserved Piscina Mirabilis at Misenum. This is one of the largest such terminal reservoirs on the aqueduct known in the Roman Empire and survives almost intact to this day. It was probably intended as a strategic water resource for the naval base, especially if the base had been besieged.

In modern times, parts of the aqueduct, in addition to the Piscina Mirabilis were vital to the region's survival during World War II. Many locals used the areas as air-raid shelters.


Literary allusions

It features prominently in the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris, whose protagonist is a water engineer ("Aquarius") sent from Rome to maintain the aqueduct in AD 79 during the time around the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.


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