Il castellum aquae di Brundisium

The historian Dionigi di Alicarnasso (from the 1st century BC) wrote of the greatness of the Roman Empire with its roads and sewers and even a complex system of aqueducts.  The importance of Brindisi in the Roman Empire is revealed because there were 2 great roads (Via Appia and Via Traiana) that connected Rome to Brindisi.  And in addition to this there was also the great feat of civil engineering that was the local aqueduct.

Because of its strategic position, Brindisium became the most import port towards the east of the Roman Empire.  This meant that Brindisi needed the infrastructure necessary to host and care for the many merchants, scholars, emperors, and military that stopped in after a long sea voyage returning from the east or to make preparations in their departure towards destinations far and wide.  This is the reason they built things like a theater, an amphitheatre, temples, and public buildings which all needed a supply of water.

The remains of this important system that supplied water can be found here in the city at the “castullum aquae”, which is a large collector that received, decanted, and then distributed the water into the network to supply the fountains, cisterns, and hot baths (both public and private) of Brindisi.

The Journey

The source of the water was in Vito, which about 9 km from Brindisi on the provincial road for San Vito Dei Normanni, just a short distance from the Ex-USAF Base.  A millpond was made that consisted of collected water from 4 different springs. 

From the millpond the water started down a “specus” (or conduit) that allowed the water to reach the city using only the force of gravity.  This aqueduct had a continuous slope from the source to entrance of the Brindisi.  The most elevated position of the Pozzo di Vito was 33m above sea level while at the “castellum acquae the height was 13 m which resulted in a gradient of about 2% over the distance.  This slight difference in height also permitted the path to be built underground with no need to be elevated with arches or bridges.

The Castellum Acque

Adjacent to the Medieval entrance to the city (Porta Mesagne) there are still the visible remains of the castellem acquae.  This was a construction of a series of connected tanks (most likely 3) that purified and decanted the water of sand and lime that water carried from its trip in the roman conduit (specus).  From the first tank to the end the water flowed from in a way that the impuririties settled to the bottom.  The remains of this structure show that the size was 51 meters long and 11.20 meters wide.

The walls are made of a concrete with facing brickwork which were covered in water resistant plaster (sand, line, and tile fragments).  The floor was terracotta and around the base there was a curb that you can still see today that was made to prevent t leaks.

The principle tank (A) which the furthest south was divided in two narrow naves by six square columns (1) centered in the middle of the tank which means the ceiling was probably a double barrel vaulted.

Conduit for cleaning the tanks

In the northwest corner of the tank, at the base of west wall, you can see the remains of a rectangular conduit that enters 4 meters into the tank at an angle.  This was used to drain the water in times of cleaning or maintenance.

The channel

In the floor of the tank you can see a small channel used to wash out the lime that would be deposited on the floor.


Above the maintenance and cleaning conduit there is a 24 cm diameter hole visible that was probably used to limit the level of the water.

The buttresses

On the south end and west side there are columns that seem to function as buttresses to hold back the weight of water.

Entrance Conduit

There is no evidence of a where the water entered but we can imagine that the conduit was on the north end (C), closest to Porta Mesagne, because in this area there is no longer a sign of the original wall.


The conservation

The tanks were partially destroyed and covered with dirt in 1530 during the construction of the new city wall by Carlo V d’Asburgo.  It was rediscovered in 1884 during the construction of a new road (modern day Via Cristoforo Colombo) and was destined to be completely destroyed to make way for the road.  The archaeologist Giovanni Tarantini and superintendent Giuseppe Nervegna realized the importance of the monument to the roman era and blocked the city from destroying the tanks completely.  The tanks and the bastion were part of a local pub called “La Tortuga” until the 1980s.  The pub was eventually torn down to allow the restoration of the tanks as we seem them today.

Translation: Jeff Gromen