Most people know the Romans were great engineers. The roads and buildings they built survive today as monuments to that skill. But the list of Roman engineering feats is not complete without mentioning the aqueducts, which combined beauty and functionality with engineering skill.
In the earliest days of Rome, drinking water was obtained from wells or the Tiber River, but it wasn’t long before the Tiber became polluted. To solve this problem, the Romans decided to build aqueducts to transport fresh water from mountain springs to the city. The first, named Aqua Appia, was constructed in 312 B.C., but the Aqua Marcia stands as the greatest of the Roman aqueducts.
The Praetor Urbanus of 144 B.C, Quintus Marcius Rex, was given authority by the Senate to build a third Roman aqueduct, one that could reach the tops of all seven hills of Rome. By 140, the project was complete and the new aqueduct was named after him.
Aqua Marcia was 56 miles long and fed from springs located near the ancient town of Morano. At its source Marcia was 318 feet above sea level and reached Rome at 59 feet above sea level, averaging about one foot drop in one thousand feet of length.
Only 12% of Marcia was above ground on arched conduits with the remainder underground with the water carried by pipes. Once the aqueduct reached the city, water was dumped into catch basins and then distributed to fountains and baths.
Wealthy Romans were willing to bribe public officials to have unauthorized cuts made in the channels to divert water to their villas and inspectors had to constantly check for leaks and unauthorized use. (Graphic from mvl aegean via Flickr)