British film-makers uncover Trajan's hidden Roman aqueduct

Two British film-makers have discovered what they believe to be the source of the 1,900-year old aqueduct built by the emperor Trajan in the early second century AD.

The underground chambers were found – and filmed – after some years of research into Roman hydraulics by the documentary-makers Ted O'Neill and his father Michael O'Neill.



According to Ted, it took some perseverance to find the location, which was hidden beneath a disused church some 30-40km north-west of Rome. Despite difficulties and delays in getting access to the site, the O'Neills were finally able to enter the underground chambers of the church in June 2009.



While the aqueduct was used from Roman times until the ninth or tenth centuries, by the Renaissance period it had fallen out of use. It was rebuilt by Pope Paul V between 1605 and 1615 and renamed the Aqua Paola after him. It still carries spring water to Rome to this day (culminating at 'Il Fontanone' on the Janiculum Hill).



Aqua Traiana: Huge Importance to Ancient Rome



However, the source of the Aqua Traiana/Aqua Paola had fallen out of the public consciousness, despite the fact that it was known as recently as 1935. A reference to it in a book, The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome by Thomas Ashby, who was director of the British School at Rome between 1906 and 1925, helped lead the O'Neill team to the right spot near the ruined chapel of Santa Fiore, on the shores of Lake Martignano (near Lake Bracciano).



The Aqua Traiana transported pure spring water to the Janiculum Hill, providing bathing and drinking water for people in that area, water for industry, as well as water for the original St Peter's church (built during the reign of Constantine I) from the fourth century onwards.



According to Mike O'Neill, this was of 'enormous importance' to ancient Rome. He adds: “The site of the water source was also of great religious importance.”



The source is right in ancient Etruria – the area of northern Lazio and southern Tuscany today – and was also an important water source for the Etruscans. The Romans, under emperor Trajan at the start of the second century AD, then built a nymphaeum at the site and built their aqueduct to take the water to Rome.



“This enabled the Romans to bring about what could be seen as one of the first industrial revolutions,” said Mike O'Neill. “With a plentiful water supply coming into the city from the north, the Romans were able to expand certain industries such as grain grinding and stone sawing.



“The water was also important as a domestic source. Trajan went to great lengths to collect very pure spring water, which enabled a big improvement in hygiene and sanitation, as well as drinking water. I don't think it's a coincidence that at the time, the empire was able to grow to its greatest extent, while the city of Rome also had a population of as many as 1.5 million.”



According to Ted O'Neill, the moment the film-crew entered the underground chambers for the first time, they were struck by the preservation of the Roman opus reticulatum brickwork. They were accompanied by professor Lorenzo Quilici, an expert of ancient Roman topography from the University of Bologna.



Filming Inside the Underground Spring



Ted O'Neill explained: “The chapel has two rooms extending off to each side, both of which are bricked off. The base of the structure is semi-oval shaped. The chapel is about 3m below today's ground level, so a ladder was needed to get down into a chamber behind a bricked-up arch, as well as lighting equipment.



There, the team found beautiful brickwork in pristine condition. Professor Quilici confirmed that they are in fact Roman. Beyond this subterranean chamber, there is a long gallery that leads to the beginnings of Trajan's aqueduct.”



The team was researching and filming another Roman aqueduct at the time – the Aqua Alsietina, which also begins at Lake Martignano. Ted O'Neill said: “We've been very interested in aqueducts from the north of Rome – although those that come into Rome from Tivoli and from the Castelli Romani are more commonly talked about.”



The shores of both Lake Bracciano and Lake Martignano were known to the ancient Romans as a leisure retreat from the city. The Aqua Alsietina transported water into the Trastevere area of Rome (to Augustus's 'naumachia' -a man-made lake where the Romans could re-enact sea battles).



The O'Neills run a small production company making documentaries and films. Film-makers by trade, their work has led them to some in-depth research into the aqueducts of Rome since they first became interested in the Aqua Vergine Nuova some time ago. They are interested in documenting these ancient structures from an historical viewpoint, as well as covering the Renaissance restorations and the modern state and use of the aqueducts.



As Mike says, Rome is the only city in Europe that uses aqueducts for its entire water supply, which is particularly interesting at a time when water supply is a serious problem in many parts of the world.

Simon Keay Explains why Portus is as Important as Stonehenge

Light Up! Light Up! Hadrian's Wall to get Spectacular Light Show

Letters from the Legions: a Personal View of World History

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?