Tel: 0039 06 99 63243 | Mail:

The Pope's Aqueduct and its sources

The first port of call for research and documentation on the Aqua Traiana, is information contemporary with the building of its successor aqueduct, the Acqua Paola.

Throughout the dark ages, Rome's viability as a city suffered since it no longer had access to the pure water which had been so abundant in antiquity, and by the 1500s, the Popes were investigating the restoration of the Roman Aqueducts. Various Cardinals were sent to the Lake Bracciano area to investigate the strength and value of the local water sources throughout the sixteenth century, and the result was the deed of purchase by Pope Paul V of most of the sources which had comprised the Aqua Traiana.

However some veins of the aqueduct were specifically excluded from the purchase because by then they were supplying water for other purposes. Specifically the Aqua della Fiora was being used to supply the Bracciano grain mill which the local Duke, Paolo Giordano Orsini had caused to be constructed at Vigna Grande in 1578.

Paolo Giordano Orsini was undoubtedly a bounder and a cad. It is probable that he killed his own wife Isabella di Medici and we know for certain he had the Pope's nephew killed in order to marry that man's wife; but we undoubtely have Paolo Giordano to thank for the fact that we are now able to explore the Santa Fiora Nymphaeum in a relatively dry state. Were it not for him, the Fiora water would have flowed to Rome for the last four hundred years and would still be flowing.

The result was an aqueduct with a significantly lower yield than in Trajan’s day. Sixty years after the construction, we know that Pope Alexander VII Chigi sent an engineer Luigi Bernini to measure the Fiora water, and conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of attaching it to the Papal Aqueduct:

According to a report on this spring [i.e. the Fiora Nymphaeum] from 25th February 1667 by the architect Luigi Bernini on the orders of Alexander VII, it is perhaps the foremost of all the Traiana waters.

122. Uniquely, we have it for certain, that Pope Paul V, in 1608 bought the major part of the Aqua Trajana from the House of Orsini.

123. It is said the major part of the Aqua Trajana; however, in the instrument of purchase, many veins are excluded, amongst which the vein known as the Madonna della Fiora; (6) of capacity 340 oncie, and all together perhaps they formed as much again as the volume purchased: the combination was so copious!

(6) This source is maybe the principal of the whole antique Trajanic Aqueduct, according to the research, that was done there on the 25th February 1667, the architect Luigi Bernini by the order of Pope Alexander VII: which although it was excluded from the total bought, wanted to have it for his second fountain in St. Peter’s Square; not treating water from the Bracciano Lake.

It is born beneath the Church called the Madonna of the Flower in the territory of Manziana, almost at the beginning of the whole ancient conduit. If Bernini’s calculation is exact, it supplied approximately 340 oncie of water of added goodness and lightness.

In front of the church there are remains of connections, tanks, and pieces of conduit above and below where it flows out to drive the grain mills.

Bernini had found other water for the mills; and said, that beyond the requirements for the abovementioned fountain; it could be sold in Rome enough to raise 18 to 20 thousand scudos, the costs covered. But in the same year, the Pope died, and everything was put on hold; finally taking water from the lake in 1673.

Carlo Fea, 1832

So in 1612, fresh water supply to the Vatican and the Transtiberim region was restored, re-using much of the ancient duct and the route used by Trajan. Much of the restoration work was carried out by the architects of the Fontana family, whose documentation is still available today.

A huge monumental fountain, often called the "Fontanone" was constructed on the Janiculum Hill overlooking the river Tiber, and another fountain immediately the other side of the river, at the end of Ponte Sisto, where the water crossed the river in eight huge pipes.

But when Paul V re-opened Trajan’s Aqueduct in 1612, and when the monumental display fountains were built to celebrate it later in that century, the best and the most copious water source from ancient times was missing. The Aqua Paola, in its first incarnation was not nearly as copious as in Trajan's time, and by 1673, it was suplimented instead by dirty lake water.

For this reason, in modern Roman slang, something or someone of dubious worth is sometimes refered to as "as good as the Acqua Paola".

However even lake water is sufficient for some purposes, and the Acqua Paola, like its roman forefather provided motive force to a whole series of mills and industry on the right bank of the river Tiber. Whilst the great gift of the pope to the Roman people may not have been drinkable, it did provide Rome with the ability to grind grain, soak tobacco, and make paper.

The other sources have passed into the hands of Rome’s current water supply, and are still flowing and full of water. It is completely due to the fact that the Fiora water was already used for other purposes by early 1600s, and not available for the Acqua Paola, that we are able to explore it today.

Next page: The Trajanic Nymphaeum...
Next Page

|< « 3 | 4 | 5 » >|

Next Page (5)

  • The Fiora Nymphaeum is one of the only remaining Aqueduct Sources from Roman times visible and explorable by our generation, and its engineering and filtration system differs significantly from that of the Aqua Virgo in Salone to the east of Rome.

    One enters the site from a road which once followed the town boundary between Bracciano and Manziana, entering through a nondescript gate, one finds oneself in a “Church Square” which is now a field used as grazing land for pigs, chickens and other farmyard animals.

    To the right, on entering, an eighteenth century barrel vaulted construction which covers a ‘bottino’ and crossroads of the aqueducts is visible. The bottino is connected to the underground chambers of the Fiora Church, and also to chambers below a new house immediately adjacent to it, and to a downstream section of aqueduct.

    Continue Reading »

  • Social Networking

  • Paolo Giordano Orsini II

    Paolo Giordano Orsini

    Paolo Giordano Orsini, 1st Duke of Bracciano, besides his pivotal role in the history of the Aqua Traiana and Santa Fiora was a key figure in the history and politics of sixteenth century Rome. The story of his elopement with Vittoria Accoramboni was adapted into a play by the Elizabethan Playwrite John Webster, and first performed at the Red Bull Theatre in Clerkenwell in 1612.

  • The Acqua Paola Fontanone

    Fontanone del Gianicolo

    The Great Fountain of the Acqua Paola on the Janiculum Hill was adorned with the ornaments and crests of Pope Paul V Borghese, and was completed by Giovanni Fontana in 1612.

    Fontanone del Gianicolo Latin Inscription

    The Acqua Paola Fountain distributes an almighty torrent of water which arrives from Lake Bracciano, and was used for three centuries to power industry in the ancient district of Trastevere. A line of three mills decended the hill immediately beneath it in buildings now occupied by the Spanish High School "Liceo Spagnolo Cervantes". The "Second" and "Third" distribution Castellums are inside this fountain, and the Fourth Castellum is at a lower level near the bottom of the current "Via di Porta San Pancrazio", in the basement of the Locanda San Pancrazio Hotel.