A Life in a Year – 24th March, The Aqueduct of Segovia

In the quest to see as much of Spain as possible I visited the city of Segovia in Castilla y Leon on 24th March 2009.

The aqueduct is the most recognised and famous historical symbol of Segovia. It is the largest Roman structure still standing in Spain and was built at the end of first to the early second century AD by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometer from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town. This elevated section is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large, rough-hewn granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years. 

The aqueduct transports waters from Fuente Fría river, situated in the nearby mountains in a region known as La AcebedaThe water is first gathered in a tank known as El Caserón (or Big House), and is then led through a channel to a second tower known as the Casa de Aguas (or Waterhouse). There it is naturally decanted and sand settles out before the water continues its route. Next the water travels seven hundred and fifty meters on a one-percent grade until it is high upon the Postigo, a rocky outcropping on which the old city center, the Segovia  Alcázar, was built.  Then, at Plaza de Díaz Sanz the structure makes an abrupt turn and heads toward Plaza Azoguejo. Here the monument begins to display its full splendor and at its tallest, the aqueduct reaches a height of nearly thirty metres with nearly six meters of foundation. There are both single and double arches supported by pillars. From the point the aqueduct enters the city until it reaches Plaza de Díaz Sanz, it boasts seventy-five single arches and forty-four double arches (or 88 arches when counted individually), followed by four single arches, totaling one hundred and sixty-seven arches in all.

It is one of those structures that make you appreciate just how brilliant the Romans were.  The fifteenth century professor at the University of Salamanca, Marineus, made the claim that ‘we should have no doubt that whatever memorable thing we come across in Spain is due to the Romans’ and although, six hundred years later, this can no longer possibly be true at the time it was probably a very fair assessment.

Although we know for sure that the Romans build the Aqueduct there is an alternative local legend that says that it was built overnight by the devil after a young water-girl had offered to sell him her soul in exchange for having the water reach her front door (she is said to have prayed her way out of the agreement).

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