Aqueduct of the thirteenth century


In the second half of the 13th century, at the apex of its most florid period, the Commune of Orvieto began two imposing projects, both of which were to change the face of the city in the centuries to come: the aqueduct and the new Cathedral.

They had begun to think of a new Cathedral as early as around 1250; and perhaps work was begun on the aqueduct in 1250 too. The aqueduct was begun first and finished first, because it was not so much the civil poetry of religion and art as it was what the desire for welfare could influence on the wise sages of the citizens and the people”. These are the proud words of Pericle Perali in his study on the medieval aqueduct commissioned in 1912 by the Municipal Administration.

Actually, in line with what the sixteenth-century historian Cipriano Manente refers, this enormous public work was finished between 1273 and 1276, under the direction of Buoninsegna da Venezia. It brought water from the Alfina uplands (more precisely from Botte dell’acqua and the neighboring springs of the Condotti) into the city, through modular stone elements set one into the other. At the dawn of the 14th century, with the work yards of the Cathedral going full blast, the documents of the time bear witness to a score of fountains scattered in various points throughout the city. By 1276 the fountain in Piazza Maggiore with a bronze basin had already been built.

This daring work however caused a lot of problems, since it needed continuous maintenance and costly restoration works, and the situation further deteriorated when the City, already weakened by internecine and external struggles, was faced with the plague of 1348 and had to deal with the enormous loss of inhabitants and energy. Throughout the 15th century the aqueduct deteriorated progressively, and at the end of the century there is mention in the documents of wooden tubing, up to then built only in lead or, in some stretches, replaced by terra cotta pipes.

Further restoration on the aqueduct and fountain of Piazza Maggiore was carried out in 1503. The fountain was dismantled and rebuilt at the corner between the Town Hall and the church of S. Andrea and must have been quite like the famous fountain in Perugia. Unfortunately in 1563 it was destroyed and the bronze basin was later given by the City to the Franciscans so they could make a new bell. In the same period various popes, including Clement VII and Paul III, financed further restoration of the aqueduct, even though on the advice of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger preference was given to the building of another imposing well, the well of the Rocca later known as Saint Patrick’s well.

Between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, other works were carried out and other cisterns (in the garden and square of the Town Hall) and fountains (in the Market Place) were built under the direction of Ippolito Scalza.

Very little of the old aqueduct is shown in the plan of Orvieto engraved in copper by Angelo Sanvitani in 1662. What little remained supplied water only to the fountains of the Cordone (formerly of Piazza dell’Erbe), of the Cava, the Carmine and the Pesceria. The city by then was using almost solely rain water from public or private wells, while the imposing waterworks were falling into ruin. In 1682, considering how much it would cost to repair the aqueduct, the City deliberated to divert the water to the area of Campo della Fiera, which was done in twelve days with terra cotta and wooden tubing.



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