Augst (Switzerland)

Roman aqueducts: Augst (Switzerland) Augst - AUGUSTA RAURICA
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Augusta Raurica, present Augst (15 km east of Basel, Switzerland) was located at the intersection of important transport routes: the south-north links from Italy to the Rhineland and the west-east route from Gaul to the Danube region and Rhaetia converged on the River Rhine at this spot. The river itself was one of the most important transport routes in the Roman Empire.

Colonia [Augusta] Raurica

For the exhibition "2000 year Basel "in 1957, a 1,5 m long piece of the aqueduct was excavated in Liestal, Heidenlochstrasse. After the exhibition it was placed near the bakery, almost opposite the Augusta Raurica Museum, including some 'recent' (17th and 18th century) graffiti.
In 44 BC, Lucius Munatius Plancus, one of Caesar's military commanders, founded Colonia Raurica, one of the earliest Roman colonies on the River Rhine in this strategically important location. However, the earliest archaeological traces found date from around 15 BC. After the Roman army had gone on to conquer the region beyond the River Rhine, Augusta Raurica evolved into a regional centre with market squares, theatres, baths and temples. In its heyday, between 10.000 and 15.000 people lived and worked here.
In the 3rd century AD, the Romans were forced to pull the northern frontier of their empire back to the River Rhine. The former town centre encompassing the forum and the two theatres, were abandoned; the army constructed a mighty fort in Castrum Rauracense (present Kaiseraugst). During the Early Middle Ages, the fort evolved into a settlement, which for some time became the regional bishop's see. In the 7th and 8th centuries, Basle, located further down the Rhine, began its rise to power and the once flourishing Roman colonial town of Augusta Raurica became a small fishing village.

The aqueduct of Augusta Raurica

A good water supply was essential for every Roman city and many Roman towns possessed one or more aqueducts - often supplementary to local wells and springs which often stayed in use. The Roman aqueduct that supplied Colonia Augusta Raurica with fresh water from the southern hinterland, began near the Ergolz river between Lausen and Liestal, and debouched in the southern part of the city. The total length was about 7,3 km with a total fall of almost 0,15% from altitudes of 325 and 315 m a.s.l. over 7,3 km (Berger 2012 pag 254). Its operational life is estimated between the third quarter of the first century into the first half of the fourth century (70 - 300 AD).

The precise source of the aqueduct is unknown, it might have been a tap from the river Ergolz, but a dam in the narrow gorze in Lausen near the present factory of Cheddite - Plastohm AG is another option. The aqueduct is from a very basic type with almost constant dimensions: 0,90 m (3 Roman feet) wide and 1,80 m (6 RF) high. It was built on a 0,40 m thick concrete foundation, its masonry walls were 1,35 m (4 RF) high and 0,60 m (2 RF) thick, with a masonry and concrete vault in which the prints of the scaffolding planks are still visible. The plaster work including quarter rounds in the corners of up to eight (!) layers, was raised to 0,80 - 1,00 m and its capacity was estimated up to 24.000 m3/day.
For additional analysis of the plasterwork and other materials used, see the contribution of Ph. Rentzel in Ewald 1997a.

Almost the whole course of the aqueduct was subterranean. It is well described on 57 places in Ewald 1997a but only on a few places the channel is accessible, see separate text.

For the opus signinum (plaster to make the 7 km long aqueduct channel watertight) at least 6.000 m3 bricks were needed, together with 1200 m3 lime. To produce the lime 10.000 m3 firewood was used (Rentzel in Ewald 1997a).
A side channel which originally was viewed as a side branch - 0,48 m wide, 1,28 m high, a fall of 12,5 % (!), but without any plaster - is now considered as a service channel. Only a few manholes are known, all of them bricked up in early days, seemingly only in use during the construction work. Given a clearly visible 'crack' both in the outside channel wall and in the foundation of the aqueduct at location 27 (north side of the Weideliweg), one may conclude that at least two different groups of workers have been active in the construction phase of the work.

Aqueduct bridge

By means of an aqueduct bridge the water channel crossed the east-west depression in the landscape, now in use by motor highway A3-E60. The bridge left no visible remains except the subsurface foundations of a series of piers. The channel was heading towards a water tower, 15 m above the ground, at the crossing of the so-called Kellermattstrasse and the Aqueduct road. Of that tower only the foundations 2,40 x 2,40 m (8 x 8 RF) were excavated accompanied by the sintered remains of some wooden pipes. The tower could have been the major element of the castellum divisorium, the main distribution basin. From here the water was led into subterranean channels towards the different living quarters, public fountains, bath houses, and private houses.

Sites to visit or see the aqueduct

Numbers based on the catalogue in Ewald 1997a

V4 Near the bakery
opposite the museum of Augusta Raurica, Giebenacherstrasse 17 in Augst (Switzerland)
For the exhibition "2000 year Basel "in 1957, a 1,5 m long piece of the aqueduct was excavated in Liestal, Heidenlochstrasse. After the exhibition it was placed near the bakery, almost opposite the Augusta Raurica Museum, including some 'recent' (17th and 18th century) graffiti.
V11 Liestal: Zirkelirain / Heidenlochstrasse
623.001-259.390 N 47°29.092′ E 7°44.627′ N 47.48487° E 7.74379°
Display and access to the channel. The key of the gate can be obtained from Heidenlochstrasse 36.
V25 Liestal: Weideliweg / Oberer Burghaldenweg south side
622.011-260.213 N 47°29.538′ E 7°43.842′ N 47.49230° E 7.73070°
A small, restored part of the channel, is open to the public. Here an opening of a small inlet from a side channel must have been present.
V27 Liestal: Weideliweg / Oberer Burghaldenweg north side
621.991-260.225 N 47°29.544′ E 7°43.826′ N 47.49241° E 7.73043°
Beautiful view into the channel unfortunately behind bars. With extra lightning.
V52 Füllinsdorf: Friedhofweg, Moosmatthof
621.826-262.040 N 47°30.524′ E 7°43.700′ N 47.50874° E 7.72833°
Accessible part of the aqueduct channel, at the inner backside of the stables. Private Property!
V57 Augst / Augsterfeld: Wölferhölzli
621.521-263.400 N 47°31.259′ E 7°43.461′ N 47.52098° E 7.72435°
Well signposted public location in the wood south of Augusta Raurica, with two entrances plus an information panel. The text of the info panel is also available on the web.

Within the city

The main element of the water distribution within the city must have been wooden pipes (in German: Teuchel or Dunkel) of which only the metal sleeves and/or the well-formed sinter ("sintererd pipes") remained. The supply to private houses was often realized by soldered lead pipes with an internal diameter of 3 - 4,5 cm. These lead pipes, including a distribution box, are now stored in the museum depots of Augusta Raurica.
As far as we know Augusta Raurica was not equipped with cisterns or other storage basins. Some nine fountains have been excavated, another 20 are surmised.
Several well developed sewer channels are known, one of them - the Kloake of the Central baths - is open to the public.

Other channels

Some 1,5 km south of Kaiseraugst a ceramic pipeline has been found, based on a foundation of stone mortar, which suggests a Roman origin. It is unclear whether the destination of this channel was the lower part of Augusta Raurica or the fort in present Kaiseraugst (Berger 2012, pag 258). Apart from the already indicated ceramic pipe line, Castrum Rauracense (present Kaiseraugst) was equipped with (at least) two other Roman aqueducts: open masonry channels possibly covered by wooden or stone plates. At one place the upper channel must have been damaged by a land slide. On this location it was replaced by a wooden channel with lead plates to facilitate the transition. A small but interesting settling basin in one of these channels is at display at the Roman forum of Augusta Raurica, behind the museum.


The museum of Augusta Raurica (Giebenacherstrasse 17, Augst, Switzerland, admission CHF 7,-) is based in a Roman-like peristylium house including a small bath facility, interesting displays and a museum shop. Here the famous 'Treasure of Kaiseraugst' is presented in full view.

Wilke D. Schram
with kind support of the museum of Augusta Raurica


Item Info
Length 7,3 km
Cross-section 0,90 m x 1,80 m
Volume 25.000 m3/day
Fall 0,15 %
Period First half 1c AD
  • Service channel
  • Note: wooden
    pipes inside the town

Recommended literature :
  • J. Ewald (1997a): Die Romische Wasserleitung von Liestal nach Augst (Archaologie und Museum vol 36)
  • J. Ewald (1997b): Die Romische Wasserleitung von Liestal nach Augst (in: J. Ewald & J Tauber: Tatort Vergangenheit) pag 211 - 220
  • L. Berger (2012): Fuhrer durch Augusta Raurica (7th ed) pag 253 - 263
Recommended websites   :
How to visit                  : see separate text box
HOME More literature on more aqueducts Last modified: January, 2013 - (webmaster)

Roman workshop

Roman theater

Loungers in a triclinium

Map of the aqueduct

Cut from the aqueduct

Imprint of formwork





Supply channel

Maintenance channel



Moosmatthof cross-section

Aqueduct channel


Bend in the channel

Birdsview on Augst

Aqueduct bridge

Drawing of the bridge


Foundations of the tower

Fountain with sprout

Ancient (?) Fountain

Lead pipes

Ceramic pipes

Wooden pipes

Small settling basin