Aqua Virgo

Roman aqueducts: Aqua Virgo / Acqua Vergine (Rome) Acqua Vergine - AQUA VIRGO

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Part I: Aqua Virgo

There is a great deal of literature about the 21 km long Aqua Virgo, because it is the one ancient aqueduct that remains functional within modern Rome. Fourteen years after he built the Aqua Julia, Agrippa constructed the Aqua Virgo (19 BCE) in order to supply water to the Campus Martius, which Augustus was in the process of developing. There are two theories with regards to the aqueduct′s name. Frontinus suggests that it was named after the young girl who discovered its source. Others, however, believe that it was named after a statue of a water goddess housed in a temple near the source.

The Virgo′s source was positioned near Rome in a marshy area north of the Via Collatina, just before the 8th milestone. Several [subterranean] feeder channels throughout its course augmented the Virgo′s water volume. One consequence of these channels was an influx of precipitate impurities that could impede or even obstructed its flow, and therefore the Virgo required periodic maintenance.

The plan of the Virgo complemented that of the Julia and met the specific requirements of the districts that were poorly served by earlier aqueducts. The Virgo distributed water to the Via Lata, Circus Flaminius, Campus Martius and Transtiberim. The service to the Transtiberim illustrates one of the main reasons for the construction of the Pons Agrippae. The Virgo required a bridge to carry the water to the opposite side of the Tiber. Frontinus notes that the Transtiberim already received water from the Aquae Appia, Anio Vetus and Marcia, but this supply was limited by the constraints of the delivery pipes running across the Pons Aemilius. The aqueduct was also to service Agrippa′s baths near the Pantheon and the artificial canal near the baths, called the Euripus, and the Stagnum, an artificial lake.

The Virgo entered Rome via a circular route to the north, subsequently eliminating the difficulties of tunneling through densely inhabited areas. It terminated at the Villa Julia and transported 100,000 m3 of water per day into Rome. All but about one kilometer of the Virgo ran underground.
Frontinus suggests that little of the Virgo′s volume was allocated for private use, only about 15%. This seems plausible because of its distribution to the Campus Martius that was primarily a non-residential area. Certainly, some of the water was intended for Agrippa′s public bath near the Pantheon. It also supplied an artificial stream near the baths named the Euripus (Aicher 1995:39). About 22% of the Virgo′s capacity was used for buildings in the Campus Martius and Transtiberim, including warehouses and industrial zones along the Tiber. Its limited service to the Transtiberim probably indicates that the water was used for public means and not as a luxury for private dwellings. The remaining 63% of the water was distributed for ′usibus publici′.

The Virgo′s water was apparently quite cold and pure, according to Seneca and Martial. Seneca refers to it as pleasant water to bathe in, while Martial twice mentions its coldness. Cassiodorus (Var. 7.6) says: "The Aqua Virgo runs with delightful purity, for while other waters during excessive rains are invaded by earthy matter, the Virgo′s current runs pure as a never-clouded sky".

From E.J. Dembskey: The aqueducts of Ancient Rome (master thesis 2009)

Part II: Acqua Vergine

Over the years, the last, elevated stretch of Aqua Virgo stopped working. So by the late Middle Ages, the aqueduct′s outlet was no longer to be found by the ancient baths of Agrippa, but about 1000 m before reaching the Pantheon, on a spot where, according to some historical sources, stood a small fountain, that was enlarged in 1453, on the occasion of the major restoration, sponsored by Pope Nicholas V. A further supplementary restoration (1559-70) that enabled the making of a new network of water ducts in some of Rome′s districts, also retrieved the aqueduct′s original springs in the Salone area. Therefore, for some time the Aqua Virgo was renamed Acqua di Salone (Salone Water). But then the old name was adopted again, in its Italian form Acqua Vergine.

In 1735, the aforesaid fountain underwent a dramatic change, being turned into one of Rome′s most famous landmarks, the Trevi Fountain, whose making took thirty years. After its opening, the people started referring to the Acqua Vergine also with the popular name Trevi Water.
In the same period, while the making of the monument was still in progress, Benedict XIV had the aqueduct restored again, and other minor repairs were carried out under Pius VI in 1788. Such works were usually remembered by hanging plaques, some of which are still in place.

Over the last decades of the 1800s and the 1900s, the city considerably expanded beyond its old boundaries. To meet the increased need of water, in 1932-1937 the aqueduct was doubled by opening a second one, called Nuovo Acquedotto Vergine Elevato (New Elevated Vergine Aqueduct), with a tall water tower built near the natural springs, in order to considerably increase the hydraulic pressure required for propulsion. Its direction partly follows the first stretch of the old aqueduct, but it then runs more straight across the central districts, reaching its final output with a much shorter overall length of 13 km.

In 1961, due to infiltrations caused by the modern districts built over the course of the old Acqua Vergine, the water of the ancient aqueduct was found to be polluted and was declared no longer drinkable, being used ever since only for the main fountains in the historical districts.

From: Andrea Pollett: Roman monographs - Aqueducts part 3: Aqua Virgo / Acqua Vergine, see website

In short / Special characteristics

  • Still in use today; it is to say: water from the same source area (Salone) and since 1937 also in metal pipes
  • Water sources : mainly subterranean plus extra subterranean supply en-route
  • Virgo′s course: along the Via Collatina plus a huge detour around the north, probably because of juridical (expropriation), geological (soil types) and technological (over 35 m deep tunnel necessary) problems. In the present course also a channel is present, over 30 m below the surface. For a major part the Aqua Virgo is subsurface, apart from a part in the area of Pietralata and below the Pincio towards the Campus Martius (both on substructions and arcades). The last part was on 139 arches, and over 1036 m in length and 9 meters high.
  • The Aqua Virgo had a very modest gradient (0.013 %)
  • Major purpose: to stimulate city′s development of the Campus Martius, including the Baths of Agrippa, the Stagnum, and the Euripus
  • Water channels from Republican times have been found in the area of Villa Borghese - 15 m below the present surface: (a) later added branch(es)?
  • Claudius added (at least) two ornamental arches to the arcade between the Pincio and Virgo′s terminus: near the Via del Nazareno (still present) and over the Via Lata (now: Via del Corso).
  • In Hadrian′s time a branch was added at the foot of the Pincio, with after the first 100 m a piscina limaria [settling] basin of which only a drawing, a short description and some remains in the Vicolo del Bottino are left
  • The Aqua Virgo underwent many restorations, in antiquity as well as in ′modern′ times - although its mainly subterranean course. This is probably caused by a too abundant inflow of water, not foreseen during its initial construction
  • After the arcades in the Campus Martius fell in despair, a new terminus was made in the 7th century at the location now occupied by the Trevi Fountain (in its present form a structure from the 18th century)


19 BCE Festive opening of the 6th aqueduct of Rome, the Aqua Virgo, built by Agrippa in order to develop the Campus Martius
17, 35-37 BC Restorations by Tiberius
45 or 46 Restorations by Claudius, later adding two ornamental arches
125 ?? Hadrian adds a branch plus a piscina limaria (settling basin) at the foot of the Pincio
4th c Restorations by Constantine (Giannitrapani 2013), see CIL 6.31564
537 Procopius reports that Belisarius cuts the aqueducts (not irreparable) to prevent the Goths to enter the city during their siege of Rome (Procopius, Wars 6.9.1)
8th c Arcades in the Campus Martius in despair
774-786 Refurbishments by Hadrian I of some of Rome′s aqueducts (Aquae Virgo, Claudia, Traiana, Alexandrina, and Antoniniana) and a new terminus near the present Piazza di Trevi (at the east side of the Via dei Crociferi)
1363 City of Rome declaration about the maintenance of the Aqua Virgo (Karmon 2005, 4)
1453 Pope Nicolas V - which means: his architect / engineer Leon Battista Alberti - restores again the Aqua Virgo, enlarges the terminal fountain in the Piazza dei Crociferi with three openings. Its Italian name: Acqua Vergine
1534-49 Agostino Steuco advices Paul III to upgrade the Acqua Vergine. Before that Steuco searches for the original subterranean course (see Bariviera2015). No action because of political problems for the pope
1550′s Pius IV: rivalry between architects
1560-70 Gregorius XIII finalizes the refurbishments which were started in 1560
1587 Sixtus V places a mostra (a new , ornamental fountain) at the present Piazza di Trevi
[1585-1590] [Sixtus V orders the building of the Acqua Felice: after 1300 years the first new built aqueduct (compare this with the Visigoths in Spain and the new-built Reccopolis aqueduct (late 6th c CE). Its source is near the ancient sources of the Aqua Alexandrina; its terminus the present Fontana di Moses.]
1643 Bernini orders the demolition of the old fountain of Nicolas V, in favor of a planned new one at the present Piazza di Trevi
1731 Clemens XII appoints Nicola Salvi as architect for the new fountain
1740-58 Benedict XIV orders further restorations on the Acqua Vergine
1744 Inauguration of the ′Trevi-fountain′
1762 The Trevi fountain finished in his present form
1788 Further repairs of the Acqua Vergine
1930′s Construction of the Acqua Vergine Nuova

Mysterious basin

After crossing the Muro Torto, east of the present Villa Medici and the ′Chiocciola del Pincio′, a branch was made in Hadrian′s time towards a special settling basin. Fabretti (17th c) showed a drawing and discussed its use. Lanciani (second half 19th c) reported that the basin was still functioning as a distribution basin (sic!). An over 125 years old gypsum model is still present in the closed Museo della Civilta Romana. Ashby (1930′s) reports the destruction of the basin during construction work of a public cable elevator. It seems reasonable to assume that in antiquity from this basin the area west of the Pincian hill was supplied.

On the site of the ′Aqueduct Hunters′ a short film is presented, in which they made a walk upstream (!) in the Aqua Virgo / Acqua Vergine, see the web

The main channel of the Aqua Virgo brought water to the Campus Martius. After the 8th c this course was later shortened to the area of the Trevi Fountain.

Arches and coins

About 65 years after its completion, Clausius restored the Aqua Virgo in the year 45 or 46. He took this opportunity to emphatically point out to the Romans his victories over the Germans and over Britain, via monumentalizing of two arches of the Aqua Virgo and the issuing of two gold coins.

One monumental arch (left) crossing an important road, can still be found in the Via del Nazareno, commemorating his victory over the (some) German tribes. The inscription above the arch reads: "Claudius in 46 CE rebuilt from their foundations the arches of the Aqua Virgo that has been wrecked by Caligula" (Aicher 1995, 167). For the associated golden coin, see this website (wds6). Piranesi (18th c CE) depicted the arch in two of his drawings.

The second arch (right) must have spanned the ancient Via Flaminia road, the Via Lata, now Via del Corso, close to the Palazzo Sciarra. It was completely destroyed in the 8th c. A part of its inscription can be found in the Capitoline museum. This arch of the Virgo was embellished because of Claudius′ conquest of Britain. For the associated coin, issued in 51 or 52 CE, see this website (wds7).

Drawings left and right from: A. Cardini and P. Carafa (eds.): The atlas of ancient Rome: biography and portraits of the city (2017).

Wilke D. Schram

Acqua Vergine - AQUA VIRGO

Item Info
Length 21 km
Cross-section Variable
Volume 100,000 m3/day
Gradient 0.013 %
Period 22 - 19 BCE
  • Still in use after many restorations
  • Subterranean sources in branch
  • Settling basin from Hadrian's time
  • Two ornamental arches + coins
  • Trevi-fountain

Recommended literature : Aqua Virgo
  • L. Quilici (1968): Sull′acquedotto Vergine dal monte Pincio alla sorgente, in: Quaderni dell′Istituto di Topografia Antica dell′Università di Roma vol 5 (1968) pag 125-160
  • R.B. Lloyd (1979): The Aqua Virgo, Euripus and Pons Agrippae, in: AJA 83 (1979) pag 193-204)
  • H.B. Evans (1982): Agrippa′s water plan, in: AJA vol 86-3 (1982) p 400-411
  • Ward-Perkins (1984): From classical antiquity to the Middle Ages
  • J.A. Pinto (1986): the Trevi fountain (chapter 1: the early history of the Trevi: from the Aqua Virgo to the Acqua Vergine), pag 5-27
  • L. Quilici (1992): Il sistema di captazione delle sorgenti, in: Il trionfo dell′acqua: atti del convegno Gli antichi acquedotti di Roma: problemi di conoscenza, conservazione e tutela, pag 47-58
  • P.J. Aicher (1995): Guide to the aqueducts of Ancient Rome, p 39-41 and 68-74
  • C.A. Giannitrapani (2013): Rilettura del percorso dell′antico Acquedotto Vergine fino ai nostri giorni (PhD-thesis)
  • P.W. Jacobs (2014): Campus Martius: The field of Mars in the life of ancient Rome
Acqua Vergine
  • J.A. Pinto (1986): the Trevi fountain (chapter 2: the Trevi from 1430 to 1730: urban politics), pag 28-39
  • D. Karmon (2005): Restoring the ancient water supply system in Renaissance Rome. See the website ′The waters of Rome′ vol. 3, Augustus 2005
  • K.W. Rinne (2007): Between precedent and experiment: restoring the Acqua Vergine in Rome (1560-70) (in: S. Schaffer et al. (eds.): Mindful hand: inquiry and invention … (2007) pag 95-115)
  • K.W. Rinne (2010): The water of Rome: aqueducts, fountains, and the birth of the Baroque city
  • C. Bariviera and P.O. Long: An English translation of Agostino Steuco′s De Aqua Virgine in urbem revocanda … (see the website The waters of Rome vol 8 (aug 2015) pag 1-17)
  • P. Long (2018): Engineering the eternal city
Recommended websites   :
How to visit                  : see above

HOME More literature on more aqueducts Last modified: October, 2019 - (webmaster)

Typical course

Western trace

Virgo extensions

two basins

View inside the basin

The water catchment area

Draining gallery

Virgo / Vergine remains

Memorial plaque

Upstream view

Two cippi

Small wall?

Crown of the Virgo


Fosso di Pietralata

Masonry foundations

Opus reticulate

Water meter?

Acque Vergine

Upstream vieuw

Plaster and Sinter

Settling basin

Model of a basin

Tritone Rinascente

Opus Reticulatum

Springers and impost

Three Virgo arches


At via Nazareno

Unhistorical railings

Arch of Claudius

Closed door

at vicus Caprarius

Two chamber basin

Opus Signinum

Trevi fountain

Agrippa gestures

Maiden Virgo

Monumental arch