In their writings as in their deeds, the ancients were quite clear about the advantages of aqueducts, and conscious of the engineering achievement involved. For example, in one of the few technical treatises extant from Antiquity, two books on The Aqueducts of Rome Frontinus (I.16) exclaims: With such an array of indispensable structures carrying so many waters compare, if you will, the idle Pyramids or the useless, though famous, works of the Greeks! This attitude might characterize the industriously utilitarian Roman as against the luxurious Greek - until one realises that aqueducts in the Roman Empire are as much a matter of prestige (and arrogance) as were earlier architectural extravagances. The best example of just how aqueducts can help beautify a city is Rome, where many of the Roman water systems still perform the same service they always did, enhanced at the "delivery point" by a myriad of Renaissance, Baroque and later fountains. It was the Hellenistic Greeks who had set standards for the exploitation of water resources that the Romans eagerly took up and extended. In the Roman world, once the public bath came into vogue, truly enormous quantities of water were required, as indeed they were for public fountains. Such lavish display was often provided by aqueducts, and was of course an inevitable by-product of their design. That is, water either flowed from a aqueduct, or it did not. The tap, so to speak, could not be turned off: if there was nowhere to store the water, then it ran away to waste - into elegant fountains and basins wherever possible. It seems likely, therefore, that foutains, open water channels and general "water display" are often a by-product of the aqueducts, and not vice versa. Hence it surely it is not too simplistic to suggest that the monumental fountain develops not only on the old principle of if you've got it, flaunt it - but also on the parallel principle of waste not, want not.

Of course, lavish display could also be the reason for providing aqueducts in the first place. At Sardis, for example, many of the wells had been destroyed during the destruction of the city in 213 BC, and replaced with what we do not know. But the further rebirth of the city's grandeur was due in no small part to the Emperor Claudius' gift of an aqueduct in AD 53 or 54. That which brought prosperity could also cause decline: the whole lower section of Sardis depended on that aqueduct and, when it was destroyed in 616 AD (probably by the Persians), those areas of the city were abandoned; piped water did not reach the area again until 1972 (Hanfmann 1975, 27-8). Aqueducts were therefore, like monumental buildings, an embellishment to any town, and they soon became one without which "normal" life was impossible. Once they were broken and the manpower was not available to maintain them, then the town inevitably declined, or at the least the population had to decline to suit whatever other water sources were available.

Pergamum & Aspendos

There are the remains of often splendid aqueducts all over the Hellenistic and Roman world, the Pont du Gard near Nimes being the grandest of all. In Turkey, the most spectacular surviving aqueduct systems are located at Aspendos and at Pergamum. At the latter location, eight water sources have been located (Radt 1988, fig. 62), the longest section of aqueduct stretches for over 50 kilometres. The most spectacular comes from Madradag to the north of the city, and feeds the acropolis using two aqueducts. Again, in the approach to the Asklepieion at Pergamum, water is freely available by the side of the colonnaded road.

At Aspendos, an inverse syphon technique is used to take the water across the low-lying valley of the Eurymedon between two high hills. Over the greater proportion of its length, the water flows by simple gravity (the engineers having built an incline into the piping) and at atmospheric pressure. But to cross a valley using such a system, however, an aqueduct of great height (cf. the Pont du Gard, in Provence) would have been required, necessitating a huge supply of building materials and tier upon tier of arcading to support the water-channel(s). Pressurization is therefore required as a substitute. The inverse syphon works on the same principle as the "U" tube full of liquid, which reaches an identical level in each tail of the "U". By regulating the diameter of the tube, water will flow (under a pressure of several atmospheres) from the "dispatch" tank to the "receiving" tank. The latter is set at a slightly lower level than the former, and is an open tank to aid settlement and get rid of bubbles. The water can then be distributed on its way. The aqueduct at Aspendos is some 800 metres in length and about fifteen metres in height between the thirty-metre-high towers. Those towers each contain an inspection staircase giving access to the settlement tanks on top, which are necessary in order to allow air to escape after restriction in the closed, interlocking pipes, and thereby reduce friction. Wonderful views are to be had from the top.

Monumental Fountains and Nymphaea

Unless cisterns were held at a good height (as at Perge), it was difficult to do anything spectacular with the water once it reached the delivery points. In towns served by aqueducts, the problem did not arise, since aqueducts can only deliver water from heights to depths, as it were: there must be a declination in the channelling for the water to flow, and in some circumstances the delivery can be arranged to the highest part of a city (as at Pergamum), with not only straightforward supply in mind, but also a suitable pressure lower down. One persuasive indication of the prestige involved in water delivery, and the conspicuous consumption essential to impress visitors, is seen in the development of monumental nymphaea - that is, fountain basins backed by architecture and sculpture, often depicting those nymphs who were supposed to be the denizens of such running water.

Nymphaea come in all shapes and sizes, from basins or sluices the size of horse-troughs, such as the one decorated with dolphins at Stratonikaea: (SB6.2), to what look like magnificent monumental facades to actual buildings, or the frons scenae of theatres (the best-known example of this type is the Trevi Fountain, in Rome). At Miletus, for example, the great basin is flanked by double-storeyed colonnaded wings, and backed by three storeys of niches, nine per storey, each niche containing a statue, and alternate niches set in an aedicule. There are no fewer than twenty-seven statues in all, and the lowest rank pour water into the basin from the vessel they hold. The supply comes from the three large chambers behind the decorated facade, themselves fed by an aqueduct (Kleiner 1968, 116-17 for plan and reconstruction). The remains of a yet more splendid design are to be seen at Side (Mansel 1963, 56-7 for plan and reconstruction), where the same frons scenae idea, although with fewer statues than at Miletus, is articulated with double-storeyed niches. At Ephesus, descending the Street of the Kuretes, there was a large nymphaeum on the east side near the Temple of Hadrian, and another two (one with a double basin, the other some thirty metres in length) a little way down toward the Library of Celsus, flanking a square with the Temple of Domitian. All seem to have been decorated with architectural motifs and statuary. One, the Pollio Nymphaeum, displayed a large group with the story of Polyphemus (now in the museum at Ephesus); this, which parallels the group in Tiberius' grotto at Sperlonga (Italy), deserves to be much better known: it dates from the first century BC, and demonstrates that the old myths from the time of Homer were still alive. As Mansel remarks (1963, 63), similarly grand nymphaea existed at Perge (where it backed onto the stage structure of the theatre), Aspendos, Kremna and Sagalassos - but the source for all of them was the Septizodium in Rome, a monumental approach to the Palatine palaces built by Septimius Severus. For Ward-Perkins (1981, 299), whose distaste for such cheap scenography is clear, the nymphaeum is a status-symbol in the same league as the colonnaded street.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Archaeology in Turkey, Building for Splendour, Town Planning, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Funerary Art & Architecture, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey