Piranesi, Veterum Aquae Marciae ductuum (1761)

Among the most important of ancient Rome’s “streets” were the aqueducts built to transport fresh water to the growing city. As Rome grew during the last three centuries B.C.E. the Tiber became increasingly polluted and inadequate to the city’s needs. The Aqua Marcia was constructed by order of the Roman Senate in 144-140 B.C.E. to tap a source in the Anio Valley 36 miles east of Rome. As the aqueduct approached the city it merged with two newer aqueducts arriving from the southeast at the Aurelian Wall at the Porta Maggiore (Porta Praenestina). This gate may be found on Nolli’s map (see previous image) at the lower right. When the Emperor Aurelian built his wall in the Third Century C.E. these aqueducts paralleled the new structure from the Porta Maggiore to the Porta Tiburtina (Porta San Lorenzo on Nolli’s map). Like his mentor Nolli, the prolific artist, designer, and occasional architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78) was fascinated by the remains of ancient Rome, and the ruins of the aqueducts were among his favorite subjects. Piranesi specialized in etching, a medium that endowed his views with both the animation of a drawing from life and exquisite detail of the structures themselves. Piranesi is best known for his Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome), a multi-volume compilation of views of ancient and modern Rome that he began in 1747. This view of the Aqua Marcia paralleling the Roman wall was published in a later work Piranesi created to support claims that Greek architecture had little influence on Roman architecture. Though the image is one of elegant ruin, Piranesi’s image also underscores the extent of Roman investment in large engineering projects—in this case for the transportation of water—necessary to sustain a great city.

 

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi, “Veterum Aquae Marciae ductuum, muris Urbis ab Aureliano constructis intersectorum ruinae, a Porta Majori ad Portam S. Laurentii,” from …De Romanorum magnificentia et architectura by Ioannis Baptistae Piranesii (Rome, 1761), p. 199. The Newberry Library, Oversize W 2129 .69 vol. 8