Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Roman Cistern

The Underground Tour: Piscina Mirabilis is the largest Roman Cistern still in existence today. Divided into five longitudinal sections supported by pillars, the Romans collected water brought by an aqueduct from the River Serino. Scholars disagree about who used this water tank. The cistern may have supplied water to the navy fleet stationed at Miseno about one kilometer away (See Misenum) or it might have provided water to nearby villas.

In order to visit, you must first call a number and make a reservation. Then go to the cistern at the appointed hour, walk down a nearby block, and ask the locals how to get in. They will point. Follow the fingers until you reach an apartment complex where a woman comes out with her toddler – and a key in hand.

The woman walks with you to the cistern and opens the doors. She refuses to go inside. Instead, she waits at the top while visitors explore by themselves, trekking down steep metal steps and into a mossy cavern.

Constructed during the Augustan period, the cistern measures 70 meters long, 25.5 meters wide, and 15 meters tall. Dug into the tufo, it has two entrances. The first is by way of metal stairs. The second is on the opposite end, but the tufo stairs currently only lead to dirt. The middle nave lies one meter below the rest of the structure and served as a decantation pool for periodic cleansing and emptying of the cistern. The walls of the cistern were once covered with a thick layer of waterproof cocciopesto (signinum). The water capacity could reach 12,600 cubic meters and the Romans created hydraulic machines on the roof terrace that pumped the water.

Twelve small rooms covered by barrel vaults were added to the cistern in the 1st through 2nd century A.D. in order to increase the power of the hydraulic system. These rooms can still be seen along the outside wall of the cistern.

Visiting these ruins, one wonders if they only tell a smidgeon of the tale – if Roman technology was this advanced, did they perhaps have even better developed technologies than we do today, but their knowledge is lost to time?

Getting There: Via Piscina Mirabile, Bacoli Call to make reservations at: 39 081 5233199


LindyLouMac said...

That looks interesting, thanks for the tour.

KC said...

The toddler makes for an interesting variation on the local with the key way of getting into sites.