~ Roman Monographies ~
Aqueducts · part III ·
FROM THE SPES VETUS TO THE TUSCOLANO DISTRICT
the Aqua Felix, following the route of
the early Aqua Claudia, off Aurelian's wall
While very little is left of the suburban parts of the Aqua Claudia, and practically nothing
of the Aqua Marcia, the 16th century Aqua Felix, whose makers plundered the remains of
the aforesaid aqueducts, still exists in full length.
After leaving Aurelian's wall by the old Spes Vetus, for about one mile the Aqua Felix
follows what in ancient roman times was the course of the Aqua Claudia, along via
Casilina Vecchia. The two main viaducts of the Aqua Claudia and Aqua Marcia ran parallel and almost straight, very close one to the
other, and between the two existed a paved road, which acted as a service passage for their
maintainance and restoration.
Today via del Mandrione follows more or less the same route of the aforesaid ancient road;
it starts about 500 metres (or yards) off Porta Maggiore, and divides the Casilino district
from the Tuscolano district. Although the street level has considerably risen, the western
side of the road is flanked by the Aqua Felix, built by the very few remains of the
Aqua Claudia, while along the opposite side are the precincts of the modern railway line.
This part is not too interesting, because the ancient roman viaducts have almost completely disappeared,
but the Aqua Felix is easy to follow. Care should be taken to the local traffic, since the road
is narrow, and the cars often drive fast.
Along the last 300 metres (or yards) of this road, instead, via del Mandrione
exactly matches the route of the roman service passage. Here more substantial remains of the
original Aqua Claudia gradually converge towards the Aqua Felix, until they become one
structure. Then, quite abruptly, the Aqua Felix makes a sharp bend,
crossing the modern carriageway, and follows the opposite side of the
road. So, for about 100 metres (or yards), on the right side stands the Aqua Claudia
alone; most of its pillars are thicker than the upper part of the aqueduct, being
faced with large stones: this lining, whose purpose was to strengthen the original pillars,
was carried out in the early 3rd century.
the Aqua Claudia in via del Mandrione
the last part of via del Mandrione: on the left
is the Aqua Felix resting against the Aqua Claudia
Where via del Mandrione comes to an end, slightly further, the Aqua Felix and the
Aqua Claudia separate again, though keeping parallel directions.
Then the Aqua Felix makes a similar bend in the opposite direction, crossing the road
again and turning back to adjoin the Aqua Claudia (as shown in the map below).
A - Porta Furba B - fountain of Clement XII
On this spot, where a short part of the Aqua Claudia is missing, the two aqueducts
cross via Tuscolana (the wide road running on the left and on the right). The Aqua Felix
does so with a special archway that celebrates pope Sixtus V, the sponsor of the aqueduct,
a custom that roman emperors too adopted for their own viaducts meeting
Sixtus V's arch is known as Porta Furba, a name almost recalling a city gate,
whose etymology is still debated.
Unfortunately, the ancient arch by which the Aqua Claudia too once crossed via Tuscolana
went lost; according to historical sources it was made of white travertine marble.
Porta Furba, where the Aqua Felix crosses via Tuscolana
the fountain of Clement XII,
standing by Porta Furba
Another interesting feature is the fountain whose grotesque face pours
water from the Aqua Felix into a small basin. This is one of three fountains that
Sixtus V had set on spots where his aqueduct met busy roads: the other two
stood in via Casilina (by Porta Maggiore) and in via Tiburtina
(by Porta Tiburtina), as a sort of refreshing welcome for travellers approaching Rome.
Of the three, only the fountain in via Tuscolana, once popularly called
"the pretty fountain", has survived, although neither this one is original:
due to its bad conditions, in 1723 pope Clement XII had it altered and
enlarged. Since then, it has always been referred to as "the fountain of Clement XII"
(...no longer of Sixtus V).
lion head from Porta Furba
Immediately after Porta Furba, the Aqua Claudia stands again
for about 150 metres (or yards). Here many of its archways have been walled up,
likely during the restoration works carried out during the late empire
Through the few ones still open, Sixtus V's
aqueduct can be seen running parallel, only a few metres away.
Here the Aqua Claudia and the no longer existing Aqua Marcia once crossed each other, reversing
their respective positions. Shortly further, the Aqua Marcia gave off a branch called
Aqua Antoniniana, built in the early 3rd century under Caracalla, whose purpose
was to reach the emperor's great baths; one of the very few surviving fragments of this
branch is the so-called Arch of Drusus by the first part of via Appia (see Aurelian's Walls, part III,
the Aqua Claudia off via Tuscolana
the Aqua Felix is seen through
an arch of the Aqua Claudia
The surviving part of the Aqua Claudia soon comes to an end, but the Aqua Felix, unbroken, keeps
following one side of vicolo dell'Acquedotto Felice, a narrow though very long road
named after the aqueduct, whose direction it basically follows.
Vicolo dell'Acquedotto Felice turns into a path, which leads to a small
public park. Opposite the Aqua Felix, a few though still impressive remains of the
Aqua Claudia can be seen through the trees.
Where the path comes to a junction, a short slope on the right leads to a series of eleven
arches belonging to the ancient aqueduct, heavily restored; the deep rectangular prints
along the pillars are the traces left by the large stones taken away in different ages, and reused for other works (in particular, for
the making of the nearby Aqua Felix).
Following again the previous route, the path grows rather narrow, and after 150 metres
(or yards) the Aqua Felix reaches a mediaeval tower, Torre Fiscale (once called Torre Branca).
the Aqua Felix (left) approaching Torre Fiscale
It was built above a second crossing of the Aqua Claudia and the Aqua Marcia. Therefore,
these two aqueducts enclosed a certain area between the tower and the aforesaid Porta Furba.
The Goths who sieged Rome in the 6th century walled up their arches and used this
area as a camp; due to this, the land between Porta Furba and Torre Fiscale was later
named Campus Barbaricus ("barbarian field").
The two ancient roman structures can be told in the lower part of the tower. On the
side looking westwards it is also possible to see the section of the Aqua Claudia's specus,
although it is now filled up, while the upper one of the Anio Novus is no longer visible.
the arch of the Aqua Claudia below the mediaeval tower
By Torre Fiscale the public pathway comes to an end, and the only possible way to go
any further is to make a diversion, following on the right a road that gently
slopes, winding for about 100 metres until it reaches via Appia Nuova. While walking
along this road, a further stretch of the Aqua Claudia can be distinctly seen
in the distance, towards the south-east.
a view of Parco degli Acquedotti, with some remains
Turning left (i.e. southbound), after 800 metres or yards via Appia Nuova
comes to a crossing with via del Quadraro: this road passes by a series of
six well preserved arches of the Aqua Claudia, and then below the railway line, finally
entering the Tuscolano district.
As soon as some tall modern buildings come into sight along via del Quadraro, just past a
football field, the road on the right called via di Villa Lemonia leads to Parco degli
This is a public ground named after the aqueducts, crossed on one side by
the Aqua Felix, while some further remains of the Aqua Claudia can
be seen far away, amidst the vegetation at the back of the park.
In ancient times a large villa stood where today is the park, and its few remains scattered on the grass,
though very poorly preserved, make this a rather charming site.
Not far from Parco degli Acquedotti are the subway stations Lucio Sestio and
Giulio Agricola (line A), that provide an easy way back to the central districts.