There are vestiges of the Roman Empire scattered across most of Europe, showcasing the talent of its craftsmen, artisans, and architects.
But few Roman antiquities demonstrate the astounding level of advanced knowledge and ingenuity like the famous aqueduct of Segovia, Spain. As SurveyHistory.com puts it:
“An inspection of Roman roads, aqueducts, canals, buildings, city layouts, and land subdivisions confirms their unexcelled proficiency in the use of crude surveying instruments as measured by modern-day standards.”
Roman soldiers may have grabbed all the glory for expanding the empire, but cities needed water. Without these clever engineers, their hillside-fortress cities would be high and dry – literally.
Not only did these ingenious aqueducts provide for basic water needs, but they also supplied large public baths, decorative fountains, and private villas. And the two things that made the water flow were Roman creativity and gravity. It really doesn’t take an engineer or surveyor to recognize what an achievement this was 2000 years ago, and in fact, the ancient marvel actually carried water to the city until the late 19th century.
The Rio Frio River, located in the mountains 11 miles from Segovia, was the source of the water. Most of the aqueduct ran underground, but in some places, like the deep valley at Segovia, bridge structures were built to channel the water. The challenge facing the builders was surveying, planning, and excavating a route, which followed the contours of the land at the precise gradient of slope; then ending up at the exact location and elevation to fill Segovia’s cisterns, bubble in their fountains, and splash in their baths.
The aqueduct is located at Segovia’s Plaza Azoguejo, which has to be one of the most impressive gateways to any historic center in Europe. It’s been such a prominent feature in the city that it’s Segovia’s coat of arms.
There’s some uncertainty of exactly when it was built, but the most popular opinion is around the end of first century AD under emperor Domitian or Trajan. The elevated section is 3,000 feet long, and at its highest point it stands 100 feet above the plaza. Its 166 graceful arches and 122 sturdy pillars make it a cohesive study in aesthetics as well as function. And as further proof of Roman brilliance, it was built entirely without mortar or cement.
Before arriving in Segovia, we had read that the bus from the AVE train station stopped at El Acqueducto, but we hadn’t seen photos. Needless to say, we were part of a tourist stampede at the bus stop as we dropped our luggage and whipped out our cameras to snap the perfect photo.
As we said in our intro post, Spain has a rich history and its conquerors have left indelible marks on its culture. The Aqueduct at Segovia is one of the best places in Europe to see an amazing legacy of ancient Rome, and just one of the reasons to visit this breathtaking hillside town.
James & Terri