It is the classic view of Segovia. The spectacular aqueduct that dominates the town and reaches out towards the mountains. Visitors clamber to the top for the views, or walk between its arches. They might even float gently above it in one of the colourful hot-air balloons that are so popular around here. But, as I discovered, the 167 tall arches of the Roman Aqueduct of Segovia are only a part of a much larger structure. The whole thing is a magnificent feat of ancient engineering.
History Of The Roman Aqueduct Of Segovia
The exact origins of the aqueduct are unknown, although it is thought to date back to the 1st century. What we do know is that the Romans built it as a way of bringing water from the mountains to the hilltop settlement of Segovia. This meant building a massive bridge to carry the water channel across the valley between the city and the mountains.
The aqueduct starts 15 km from the city. Obviously the water had to run on a gentle but continuous slope, so parts of the structure had to be raised above the ground to take account of the undulating landscape. Where it crosses the valley it stands on tall arches (double arches at the highest point), at one point standing 28 m above the ground. The aqueduct has been restored and rebuilt throughout the centuries and it continued to supply water to the city until the 19th century. Along with the old town and fortifications, the Aqueduct of Segovia became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Although Segovia’s aqueduct is one of the most impressive, Roman aqueducts can be seen in many places throughout the former Roman empire. The city of Rome had a total of eleven water channels, and you can see some of the remains in the city’s Aqueduct Park.
The Legend Of Segovia’s Aqueduct
Even today, building such a colossal structure would not be a simple task. It must have seemed like a superhuman achievement to those who lived here after the Romans had departed. So it is not surprising that a legend should have grown up around its construction.
The story is that there was a servant girl who had to climb down the valley and up the mountainside each morning to fetch water. Tiring of her task, she appealed to the Devil to find another way of supplying the household with water. The Devil agreed, on condition that he could claim her soul if the work was complete by the time the cock crowed the following morning. However, the girl took fright when she spotted an army of demons working on the aqueduct during the night. She prayed to God to thwart the Devil’s plan, and the cock crowed just before the last stone was laid. This left a gap in the bridge, where a statue of the Virgin of Fuencisia stands today.
Exploring The Roman Aqueduct
What most visitors see is the aqueduct bridge, the central part of the construction. It meets the city walls at the Postigo del Consuelo (close to the Tourist Information Office). Here you can climb up a set of stairs almost to the top of the aqueduct, where you will get a wonderful view of the arches and of the surrounding countryside.
But there is lots more to see. Climb the steps on the other side of the valley and follow the arches until they disappear. The aqueduct then becomes a low wall, and a small stone monument marks the point where it moves underground for the remainder of its journey. As you walk along this section look out for a small building: this was where the water would have been filtered to remove sand and other impurities before use.
Bringing Water To Segovia
The water also ran underground as it entered the city. Although there is nothing to see now, you can trace the route it would have taken by following a series of pavement markers from Postigo del Consuelo. These take you right through the city, ending just outside the Alcazar, the castle that stands on a rocky promontory at the other side of the hill.
When you reach the Alcazar you can look down into the valley and get a real sense of Segovia’s position as a town perched on a hilltop. You will marvel again at the skill of the Roman engineers who brought water to the city.
This article is now available as an app for mobile devices. Click here to find out more.