El Acueducto de Segovia
By Rachel Emanuel
The security of a country depends on its access to water. No group of humans could ever hope to thrive without a reliable source of fresh water. The ancient Roman Empire would never have survived without water to drink and to grow crops.
The Romans constructed 11 elaborate aqueducts to bring water from fresh springs into towns they hoped to cultivate into population centers. The most well-preserved of these is, without a doubt, the aqueduct of Segovia, Spain.
While the inscription at the top, or the attic, of the aqueduct has been lost with time, historians generally agree that the edifice was commissioned by either Emperor Vespasian or Emperor Nerva, both of whom are remembered for their ambitious construction projects. This would place construction during the second half of the first century CE.
The magnificence of the 2,950 foot long aqueduct lies in the fact that the 24,000 massive granite blocks are joined together without mortar or clamps. The solid blocks of stone fit together perfectly and have withstood centuries of weathering, yet still showcase the grandeur of the Roman empire. The architectural technique based on balancing forces that was used in the construction of the bridge was lost, and it has only been in the modern era that engineers and architects have been able to replicate the hydraulic and construction technologies mastered by the Roman army.
However, the inability of later generations to explain the engineering behind the aqueduct did not prevent them from utilizing the water brought in on a one percent grade from the cold Spring Fuenfría, found in the mountains 10.6 miles from the city. The aqueduct was in use until the beginning of the 20th century when pollutants and vibrations from heavy trucks began to undermine its proper conservation.
The entire aqueduct stands nearly two stories high and is composed of 166 stone arches. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella rebuilt 36 of the original arches during their reign and took care to preserve the original style and elegance of the structure. The height of the aqueduct varies as it conforms to the topography of the city, but it stretches to a magnificent 73.5 feet at its tallest point with 20 feet of foundation unseen below the ground.
It is easy to see why the aqueduct is at the top of the must-see list of every visitor to Segovia. With its combination of beauty and utility, the aqueduct is a unique ancient yet modern marvel of engineering.
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Learning Activity for Middle School: Design Your Own Aqueduct
- If the construction of the aqueduct required 0.5 inches of mortar between each block, how would the total length of the aqueduct be affected by the addition of the mortar?
- How many people would you need to stand on top of in order to reach the highest point of the aqueduct without a ladder?
- Research the population of the area when the aqueduct was built. How much water was needed to supply the drinking needs of these people?
- If an aqueduct runs 10 yards, how long is the aqueduct in inches?
- The entire aqueduct is composed of 166 stone arches, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella rebuilt 36 of them. How many of the originals are left?
Social Justice Questions
- Why is access to clean water such an important part of any society?
- What are issues that prevent people groups from having clean water?
- What are other issues that are inextricably intertwined with giving or receiving clean water?
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