The most important part of any civilization is water. No group of humans could ever hope to thrive without it. Certainly the most expansive civilization the world has ever seen would never have survived without water to grow their crops, to bathe, and to drink. The Romans constructed 11 elaborate aqueducts to bring water from fresh springs into towns they hoped to cultivate into thriving cultural centers. The most well-preserved of these is, without a doubt, the aqueduct of Segovia, Spain.
While the inscription at the top, or the attic, of the aqueduct has been lost with time, historians generally agree that the edifice was commissioned by either Emperor Vespasian or Emperor Nerva, both of whom are remembered for their ambitious construction projects. This would place construction during the second half of the first century A.D.
The magnificence of the 2,950 foot long aqueduct lies in the fact that the 24,000 massive granite blocks are joined together without mortar or clamps. The solid blocks of stone fit together perfectly and have withstood centuries of weathering, yet still showcase the grandeur of the Roman empire. The architectural technique based on balancing forces that was used in the construction of the bridge was lost, and it has only been in the modern era that engineers and architects have been able to replicate the hydraulic and construction technologies mastered by the Roman foremen.
However, the inability of later generations to explain the engineering behind the aqueduct did not prevent them from utilizing the water brought in on a 1 percent grade from the cold spring Fuenfra, found in the mountains 10.6 miles from the city. The aqueduct was in use until the beginning of the 20th century when pollutants and vibrations from heavy trucks began to undermine its proper conservation.
The entire aqueduct stands nearly two stories high and is composed of 166 stone arches. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella rebuilt 36 of the original arches during their reign and took care to preserve the original style and elegance of the structure. The height of the aqueduct varies as it conforms to the topography of the city, but it stretches to a magnificent 73.5 feet at its tallest point with 20 feet of foundation unseen below the ground.
It is easy to see why the aqueduct is at the top of the must-see list of every visitor to Segovia. With its combination of beauty and utility, the aqueduct is a unique ancient yet modern marvel of engineering.
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