Saturday 3 June 2023

Has proof been uncovered that an aqueduct south of Pompeii could be Roman? Enthusiasm and skepticism about the “Acquedotto Quisisana”

In Evidenza

By Ted O’Neill*

The true history of the Agerola-Quisisana aqueduct near Pompeii and Sorrento may soon be revealed according to local historian Angelo Acampora and two enthusiasts from ArcheoClub d’Italia.

As reported in Italian news agency AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italiana), the Bourbon-era aqueduct supplying the town of Castellamare di Stabia in the Bay of Naples has been claimed over the 2021 new year holiday to be of ancient Roman origin.  The aqueduct runs from a source in Agerola 1000 metres above sea level through the Franche di Pimonte to Mt. Coppola and the Quisisana woods to King Carlo III‘s Palace called the Reggia of Quisisana, and down to the port of Castellammare di Stabia.  Unfortunately I have not yet been able to independently verify the evidence for the new date.

“There’s no life without water,” said Massimo Santaniello, President of the Stabiae section of ArchaeoClub d’Italia.  “An aqueduct is not always a monument with an imposing architectural aspect, but the work of hydraulic engineering and the public use render it important.”[1]

Castellamare is a castle-town south of Pompeii in the bay of Naples. In ancient times it was known as Stabiae and it was a peripheral point to the region’s ancient water supply, the

Serino Aqueduct (LINK)

or the Aqua Augusta Campaniæ which had branches each side of Mt. Vesuvius supplying Pompeii to the south and finally filling vast tanks to supply Baiae and the Piscina Mirabilis (Porto Miseno) to the north of the bay where the Roman fleet was based.   In more modern times the port of Castellammare was developed by the House of Bourbon into the largest shipyard in Italy with 1,800 workers and the same Bourbons built the Agerola-Pimonte-Quisiana aqueduct to service that shipyard.

So we need to ask how much of Carlo III’s aqueduct building work was original, or whether they merely restored an ancient waterway.   Amateur archaeologists Massimo Santaniello and Wolfgang Murmann have been exploring and documenting the remains of the Bourbon aqueduct in the hills above the Castellammare since 2007 and this weekend nationwide news broke of their discovery that the Bourbon Aqueduct is in fact Roman.  The news was credited to Prof. Umberto Pappalardo of the SAIC – Italian Archaeology school of Carthage.

Historical Aqueducts in Campania Map © Ted O’Neill

Clearly Castellammare residents are extremely enthusiastic about their potential new Roman Aqueduct and over the New Year weekend, I had the opportunity to interview some very passionate historians with vastly different theories about why the Castellammare aqueduct might be ancient.  However when we spoke to SAIC Professor Pappalardo, he immediately made the startling admission: “I’ve never seen it. I can’t judge.”[2]

So what is the evidence?   We can now reveal the following:  the principle evidence comes from Massimo Santaniello the president of ArchaeoClub Italia Stabiae branch and German tour-guide Wolf Murmann.  Santaniello and Murmann have recently made detailed measurements of the Aqueduct channel known as the specus and photographed its building materials although these photographs have not yet been made available to us. Santaniello and Murmann believe they have photographs of Roman masonry in the aqueduct, and particularly of waterproof cocciopesto with shards or ‘cocci’ of terracotta*.  We would particularly like to see those photographs.

What is Cocciopesto (LINK)?

At the same time, local historian Angelo Acampora has proposed an interesting theory.  Acampora noticed whilst translating a work by Giovanni Boccaccio, contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, that Boccaccio seems to describe an aqueduct running 45,000 paces (equivalent to 66km) from the ‘castle of Sarno’ to Miseno[3].  The Reggia di Quisisana, the closest castle to the river Sarno is 61km from Capo Miseno taking the most direct route through central Naples.

It is not clear that we can rule out the possibility that Giovanni Boccaccio is writing about the Serino Aqueduct*, which survived Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in 79AD but was buried by the subsequent eruption in 472.  If this possibility can be excluded, however, by a process of elimination it is likely to refer to the Castellammare aqueduct, and could suggest it has older origins than the Bourbon era.

Santaniello and Murmann have followed and investigated a stretch of 3km of the aqueduct channel, known as the ‘specus’ between Quisisana forest and Pimonte. For long stretches the conduit is concealed in the rock, but they have identified two arches, and several sections of underground duct.  They report having seen cocciopesto lining on the inside of the specus, and brick arches constructed with straw-yellow bricks like no-other brick used nearby.

German tour-guide Wolf Murmann expressed his happiness to us about the discovery.   “Scientific work is not my cup of tea,” he said, “but it’s a kind of joy to see such an old building in such a good condition, when only a few people who know the building know what it is. It is a joy for me to participate in these studies and lend a helping hand.[4]”. Massimo Santaniello was also very enthusiastic.  “Let’s not forget that Castellammare di Stabia is the only town in the world to have twenty-eight different mineral water sources all located at the foot of Mt. Faito,” said Santaniello.  “A town that has a very special relationship with water.[5]

*Ted O’Neill is an archaeological writer, archaeological filmmaker and private researcher. His research focuses on Roman water sources, including the Aqueducts of Rome and Leonardo da Vinci’s canal system in northern Italy. O’Neill’s M.A. thesis, “Searching for the springwater sources of the Aqua Traiana,” summarizing ten years of field and archive research, was supervised by David Mattingly at University of Leicester in 2018. O’Neill’s publications include “L’acquedotto di Traiano tra il Ninfeo di S. Fiora e il Lago di Bracciano” published by Lorenzo Quilici (in ATTA 24 [Rome 2014]).


[1] “L’acquedotto non sempre è un monumento dall’aspetto architettonico imponente, ma è l’opera di ingegneria idraulica e la pubblica utilità che lo rendono importante” – Massimo Santaniello, President of the Stabiae section of ArchaeoClub d’Italia – Whatsapp interview with EJON 02/01/2021

[2] “Non l’ho mai visto. Non posso giudicare” – Telephone interview with EJON 31/12/2020

[3] FIUME SARNO: “Molesta molto con le nebbie gli abitanti, delle quale sempre abbonda.   Ultimamente dalle paludi nel suo letto ridottosi , sotto il monte Vesuvio bagna il contado Pompeiano, e contentatosi di picciolo  corso, e non accompagnato dall’onde altrui, assai nondimeno d’acque copioso, non lungi da Stabbia entra nel mar Toscano.   Questi appresso il castello Sarno, il quale sta disopra alle sue fontane, se fia che in questo o legna, o paglia, o frondi, o qualunque altra cosa caschino, in pochi giorni le ricopre d’intorno di scorza di pietra, e menando seco assiduamente materia, di questa dà cagione agli abitanti di fabbricare case.

E di questo per comandamento di Cesare Nerone, fu disopra edificato un aquidotto (sic), poco più alto dalla radice del monto, cominciato con pali, e altri sostenimenti di pietra cotta fatti, e esso acquidotto stesso insino Miseno […], avente (come giudico) XLV mille passi di lunghezza.

Quivi era fondato l’acquidotto in piscina di smisurata grandezza, perocchè il golfo di Baia, per cagione del solfo, dell’acque di bagno potabili gran penuria patisce, e con l’abbondanza di quello ristorava il mancamento di tutta la riviera, con grandissima comodità degli abitanti.   Alcuni, non ponendovi mente, pensarono questo Sarno essere l’Arno, fiume di Firenze.”  Boccaccio (1313-1375) “Dizionario geografico de montibus, silvis, fonibus, lacubus, fluminibus, stagnis seu paludibus, et de nominibus maris.” Tr. N. Liburnio.

[4] Telephone interview of Wolfgang “Wolf” Murmann with EJON 02/01/2021

[5] “Non dimentichiamo che Castellammare di Stabia è l’unica Città al mondo ad avere 28 diverse sorgenti di acque minerali, tutte localizzate ai piedi del Monte Faito. Una Città che ha un rapporto con l’acqua molto speciale.”  – Massimo Santaniello – Whatsapp interview with EJON 02/01/2021

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