One of the more remarkable achievements of the Romans was the extensive network of aqueducts they built across Europe for the purpose of transporting water between various locations. The Roman aqueducts are hailed today as an ancient engineering feat, and one of the marvels of the ancient world. In some parts of Europe, Roman aqueducts can still be seen today, and some of them are still in use, despite the fact that they are over 2,000 years old.
There were 11 major Roman aqueducts, and numerous smaller aqueducts along with leats, small watercourses used to divert water to various locations. All told, the 11 major Roman aqueducts stretched across an estimated 260 miles (418 kilometers), with shapes dictated by the lie of the land. The Roman aqueducts twisted and curved across the European landscape to transport water to Roman cities, industrial works, and farms.
The Romans used a lot of water, and the aqueducts were capable of amply meeting their needs. In addition to extensive gardens which needed water, the Romans also had rivers, pools, and other water features around their homes, and the famous Roman baths also sucked up a great deal of water. The innovation and creativity involved in meeting the Roman need for water is really quite impressive, when one thinks about the tools and knowledge available to the Romans.
The most famous features of the Roman aqueducts are probably the massive elevated structures used to build up water pressure so that the water could flow into cisterns in Roman cities. From the cisterns, water was distributed to numerous public fountains, and into the homes of very wealthy Romans. However, the aqueducts also included pipes, canals, and tubes bored directly through hills and mountains.
The stone parts of the Roman aqueducts were lined with a special type of concrete to prevent water loss, and the construction of the aqueducts promoted a steady, reliable flow of water along their entire length. A sophisticated system of controls and sluice gates could be used to empty sections for maintenance, and water periodically made stops in sedimentation tanks to remove impurities.
Construction of the Roman aqueducts primarily took place between 326 BCE and 226 CE. The aqueducts required a great deal of maintenance and constant inspection to run smoothly, and as a result, many rapidly fell into disrepair after the fall of the Roman Empire. In some areas, this disrepair was hastened by enemies who destroyed sections of the aqueducts; in retrospect, this was a poor decision, as it limited abilities for expansion and settlement in some parts of Europe.