Mystery Bridge Nr. 36: The Ravenna Aqueduct in Italy

The Aqueduct of Segovia in Spain. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Segovia_Aqueduct.JPG

The next mystery bridge article is in connection with a project the author is doing for a university in eastern Germany- namely one involving a rather antique bridge type known as the aqueduct.  As you can see in the picture above, aqueducts date back to ancient times, first used by the ancient Greeks and Etruscans but later expanded by the Romans during their time in power, beginning in the second century BC. Tens of thousands of kilometers of aqueducts were constructed by 195 AD, the time when the Roman Empire was at its peak in size and power, with 11 of them totaling over 300 kilometers built in the city of Rome itself.

Aqueducts themselves are viaducts that feature multiple stories of arches but whose top row of arches transport water to the cities on land. In general, water extracted from a larger body of water- in the case of the Roman Empire, the Mediterranean Sea, with some smaller aqueducts being used to connect the major ones in Germany, France and England- and is transported through a series of canals and arch viaducts, making a gradual decline going inland. Most of these aqueducts were built using bricks and/or stone, while the pipes and troughs used to transport water were first built using lead, yet ceramics and clay were later used due to concerns of lead poisoning and water-borne diseases that affected the Roman population.  Many of these aqueducts were destroyed by Germanic tribes, Vandals and Franconians when the Empire crumbled bit by bit after it was split into two in 395 AD. Others were left in disarray. Yet there were some aqueducts that were restored by the Visogoths and Ostrogoths after the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist with the overthrow of Romulus, son of Orestes, by Odoacre in 476 AD.

The Ravenna Aqueduct was one of the surviving Roman aqueducts that was restored after 476 AD. It was first built by Emperor Trajan in the second century (before his death in 117 AD) connecting Ravenna with the port of Classe, located northeast of the city on the Adriatic Sea. Little was known about the aqueduct except it was approximately 20 kilometers long, with another branch being built later that was 70 kilometers. According to Deborah Deliyannis in her book, Ravenna in Late Antiquity, the aqueduct was out of service by 460, with portions destroyed during the conquest of Italy by Theoderich the Great, where he besieged Ravenna between 490 and the time he murdered Odoacre and took over the Italian kingdom in 493. It was then that he ordered all aqueducts to be restored, including this key connection between Ravenna and Classe. Reason for that was simple: he wanted to restore the water system to Ravenna to enable people to use it for drinking, irrigation and bathing.  The restoration was confirmed with the excavation of lead pipes that were part of the aqueduct in 1938. The restoration of the aqueduct was one of many architectural achievements that belonged to Theoderich during his regime of the Ostrogoth and later the Visigoth kingdoms before his death in 526.

Yet the question is what the aqueduct looked like during its existence and how it went from the port at Classe to Ravenna, for the path of the aqueduct remains disputed. We do know that Theoderich’s regime was similar to that of Alexander the Great, when he conquered Greece and the Persian kingdom in 323 BC, but allowed the civilizations to thrive. Theoderich’s tolerance over the civilizations based on religious and cultural backgrounds was legend during his time, and his initiative to rebuild Italy’s infrastructure and architectural landscape showed his willingness to allow the people to have a better life than before his conquest. The Ravenna aqueduct was one of those works of art that can reportedly be seen in Ravenna. The question is where the rest of the aqueduct was built and if some of the remnants outside Ravenna can be seen today.

If you have any historical information and findings to date, as well as photos and sketches of the Ravenna Aqueduct, regardless of what language, please use the following channels and contact the Chronicles:

Send your photos and sketches, as well as inquiries to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com

You can place your information about Ravenna’s aqueduct, Trajan’s architectural work or Theoderich’s restoration in the comment section of this article.

Another source where you can send the information is Dr. Udo Hartmann of the Institute of Antiquity at the University of Jena in Germany, who teaches ancient history and has been teaching about Theoderich the Great this semester (Winter Semester 2013/14) and is overseeing the project the author is doing. His e-mail address is: udo.hartmann@uni-jena.de

As soon as the pieces of the aqueduct’s history are put together and the project is completed, an update in abbreviated form will be presented in the Chronicles. Your help would be much appreciated in this matter. Many thanks for your help.

Information on Ravenna, the aqueduct, Trajan and Theoderich the Great can be found by clicking on the following links below:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classe,_ancient_port_of_Ravenna#cite_note-11

Ravenna in Late Antiquity and the Restoration of the Aqueduct

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravenna

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoderic_the_Great

 

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