Serino (Italy)

Serino Aqua Augusta Aqua Augusta
For the photo's, see below


The area around the bay of Napoli is famous for its beautiful landscape and because of the Vesuvius, Capri, Ischia and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. A less known aspect is that it also includes one of the larger aqueduct systems in the Roman world, the Serino aqueduct. This system of aqueducts was built in the time of Augustus, probably between 30 and 20 BC when Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was curator aquarum in Rome. The peninsula west of Napoli, on the northern side of the bay, is unusual because it consists of a large number of overlapping crates of very young and partly still active volcanoes. This gives rise to very fertile soil and the presence of a large number of hot springs, which, together with the great natural beauty of the area made it attractive for settling. Not only old Greek towns such as Cumae and Neapolis are situated here but also Puteoli (Pozzuoli), in Augustus time the most important commercial harbour for Rome.
The area was also very popular with the rich, and numerous villas crowded the hills, especially west of Puteoli at Baiae. Now, this is a rather low-profile suburban area, but in the time of Augustus it was one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the roman world, an area of leisure where the rich tried to outdo each other in the luxury of their sumptuous villas.

Map 3: Portus Iulius and surroundings (aqueduct in green)

The area was also of military importance because of its excellent natural harbours. During the war with Pompeius, Augustus ordered the construction of a harbour complex just west of Puteoli, named Portus Iulius, where an old Greek dam was restored to create an artificial lake, Lacus Lucrinus, which was then connected by a channel to another lake, Lacus Avernus, which was traditionally one of the entrances to the underworld. Later, this harbour was seen as less ideal, because of silting problems, and a new complex was built further west at Misenum, where two lakes were connected to become the basis of the western Mediterranean war fleet. This major naval base needed large quantities of fresh water for the base itself and for the ships, which must have been one of the reasons why Augustus had a new aqueduct built. This aqueduct, probably in antiquity known as the Aqua Augusta, partly followed older Samnite constructions in the east. When it was finished, the main channel was 96 km long, and had 12 to 14 branches to towns along its trace such as Nola, Pompeii, Atella, Acerra, Neapolis, Puteoli, Cumae and Baiae. There was possibly also a branch to Herculaneum. With these branches, the complex may have had a length of over 140 km.

The Serino aqueduct

The Serino aqueduct is not well known because there are no remains of spectacular bridges, but it is a significant piece of engineering. The source, the Fons Augusteus, is now known as Acquaro-Pelosi and lies near St Lucia di Serino at an altitude of 376m. Nearby, a lower spring at 320 m serves as a source of another aqueduct that served Beneventum.

Map 2: Puteoli and surroundings (aqueduct in green). Note the independant aqueduct north of Puteoli (Campanian aqueduct)

The landscape in which the aqueduct is situated is not the same as it used to be in the time of Augustus and the imperial age. First of all, several eruptions of the Vesuvius, starting with the one in 79AD covered the branch to Pompeii to inaccessible depth, which also counts for parts of the aqueduct in the north. In the Campi Flegrei west of Napoli, the situation is even worse: this area is underlain by a massive magma chamber which lifts and drops the landscape by several metres over the years, a phenomenon known locally as "bradisismo". As a result, the roman town and harbour of Portus Julius is now under water just of the coast west of Puzzuoli, and part of ancient Baiae is also covered (see map 3). In 1538, a new volcano, the Monte Nuovo, suddenly has been formed west of Puzzuoli in the course of a few days, with an altitude of 120m. This volcano destroyed a number of roman ruins, and part of the site of lake Lucrinus. Erosion and excavation of the local tuff for construction has also destroyed some archaeological sites. However, a large part of the aqueduct system probably still exists below the surface.

From the source, the aqueduct ran mostly underground with some major tunnels, like the one below Mt Paterno with a length of 1903m. The aqueduct passed north of Vesuvius to Naples, north of the city and then through Puzzuoli and Baiae to the end at the naval base of Misenum. Here, it certainly served one of the largest cisterns in the Roman world, the Piscina Mirabilis but it may have extended further towards other parts of Misenum. There were sections of arches such as a stretch 3500m long and 4-5 m high at Pomigliano d'Arco NW of Vesuvius and near Naples. But most of the aqueduct was buried, which probably explains why it attracted relatively little attention. Some parts of the aqueduct were built as two parallel channels, one buried, and one on arches (between Mura d'Arco and Vallone del Monaco); it is unknown if these were active at the same time or built one after the other for repair purposes.

The total relief of the aqueduct is 366m from the source to the Piscina Mirabilis at 10m altitude, which gives a mean slope of 0,3%. The slope varied considerably, though. From the source to Cadutta della Laura 7,3m/km; from there to Monte Paterno 0,52m/km; to Pomigliano 0,39m/km; from there to Napoli (Ponti Rossi at 41,4m) 0,16m/km; and finally to the Piscina Mirabilis 3m/km. The slope therefore varied from 0,016% to 0,73%. The specus of the aqueduct varied in size, but was mostly 0,8 m wide and 1,8m high. The maximum capacity at the upper sections is calculated at 550l/s, which would be a total of 48.000 cubic metres per day.
Pompeii was one of the towns served by the aqueduct, and the capacity of the branch that ended here in the castellum aquae was 42 l/sec. If each of the 12-14 main consumers on separate branches had a similar capacity, the total estimate of 550l/sec is reasonable.

The route of the aqueduct

From the source at St Lucia di Serino the aqueduct runs to Mercato di Sorino where it crossed the Sabato river on a bridge to the west to Aiello. It passed below Contrada in a tunnel, then through the plain of Forino through Preturo, Pandola, Tor di Marcello, Castel S Giorgio and Tavera di Lazzaro to a major tunnel below Monte Paterno of 1903m long towards Sarno. Through Episcopo and Palma it continues to Mura d'Arco where it ran in a double section, one buried and one on arches to Vallone del Monaco where both branches join again. The following section passes through Torricella, San Gennaro Vesoviano, Piazzolla, Martino, S Maria del Pozzo, La Masseria San Rossio, Masseria la Preziosa and then over a section on arches to Pomigliano. Then through Casalnuovo, Afragola, San Pietro a Patierno to San Giuliano north of Naples where there are remains of an aqueduct bridge (Ponti Rossi). The aqueduct circled Naples below the hills of San Eframo, Santa Maria del Virgine, to Santangelo, where a branch went south to serve the city of Neapolis through Porta di Costantinopoli and San Patrizia. The main channel followed the route through S Elmo and Chiaia to a tunnel to west of Naples (Map 2), This is a major road tunnel, the Crypta Neapolitana, 5m high, 4,5 m wide and 700m long, wide enough to have to carts pass each other. It was built by L. Cocceius Auctus, a freedmen architect who came from this area and probably worked for Agrippa. The aqueduct does not lie in the tunnel itself, but runs parallel to it at a high of 50cm from the base of the tunnel on its north side. On the west side of the tunnel, the aqueduct then branched; one branch went south to a junction at the coast, where a branch probably went over a bridge to the island of Nitida , while another passed parallel to but on the north side of another road tunnel, the Grotta Seiano, to serve the large imperial villa at Posilippo, (Pausilippon) also known as the Villa Polii after its first owner.

Map 1: Overview over the Serino aqueduct / Aqua Augusta (aqueduct in green). Note the independant aqueduct of Beneventum

The main branch of the Serino aqueduct left the Crypta Neapolitana to the west with a small side branch to the large bath complex of Termi di Agnano. From there, it passed through Puzzuoli with a branch to the city, then along the via Domitiano to circle the Lake of Averno. Here a side branch passed parallel to and at the north side of another road tunnel built by Cocceius to Cuma (for those interested: there are at least seven roman road tunnels in this area !! - see map 2). The main channel then follows the flank of three craters above Baiae and on the Misenum.

Untill 1938 the construction of the Serino aqueduct was credited to Claudius. Based on the inscription above from the 4th C AD it is thought that Augustus was the builder; perhaps Claudius was reponsible for the extension to Misenum

The Serino aqueduct filled several cisterns in the section beyond Naples. This can be established because the local water contains little calcium carbonate in solution, while that of the aqueduct comes from a karst-source, and is rich in calcium carbonate; as a result, it deposits sinter in the main channel, and in any cisterns it helped to fill. In Puzzuoli, the aqueduct served several cisterns, notably the Piscina Cardito (55x16m) from the second century, and the Piscina Lusciano (35x20m) from the first century AD. In Baiae, a tunnel with two cisterns, known as the Crypta Romana, was filled by the aqueduct. The main cistern filled by the aqueduct is the Piscina Mirabilis in Bácoli (Misenum), which could contain 12000m3. Close by are two other large cisterns, probably belonging to large villas, the Grotta Dragonaria and Cento Camerelle.

Near Naples

In the Via Niccolini in Naples (Italy) alongside a series of modern white circular buildings are the remains of two aqueduct bridges of the Serino aqueduct. These "ponti rossi" (red bridges) cross the Miano valley with a length of 125m and with an average height of 5m, supporting a specus of approximately 1.5m high and 0.79m wide. This whole area of Naples is named after the bridges Ponti Rossi. The southern bridge is best preserved, with some of the eastern arches blocked up in gardens, but traffic still passing underneath the central arches. The southern bridge changes into a supporting wall to the west. The bridge can best be reached as indicated on the map, from an exit on the Motorway that crosses Naples by a roundabout way; a more direct road is difficult because the motorway crosses the Miano valley on a high bridge, and because of one way streets. For those not used to Napoli traffic - take care! Parking is easy near the white circular modern buildings.

Map showing the location of the Ponti Rossi aqueduct bridges, and the easiest access road

A section of the Serino aqueduct can be seen in a small park, the "Parco di Tomba di Virgilio", close to the Mergellina Metro station. The park is named after a roman grave monument known as the "Tomba di Virgilio" (Tomb of Virgil), and although Virgil was buried somewhere in the area, there is no indication for any connection of the tomb with the poet. The park was created in 1930 to commemorate the 2000th birthday of Virgil. The tomb stands at the western end of the 700m long roman road tunnel of the "Cripta Neapolitana" about 10 m above the road. This elevation, and the impressive height of the roman tunnel are due to the fact that the area was used as a quarry in later time, and that the road level in and outside the tunnel was considerably lowered.
The aqueduct channel is excavated in the local soft volcanic pyroclastic rocks. It ran to a separate tunnel parallel to the roman road tunnel and is now also suspended high up in the park, and partly destroyed ba later quarrying. The remains can be seen by ascending the steep stairs at the top of the road that crosses the park: section A is not accessible and is cut off at two sides by quarrying. Section B can be entered to reach a small platform with medieval frescos and a view into the cripta napolitana. A 1 m high layer of opus signinum is preserved in the specus and along the wall of this platform. The opus signinum is directly applied to the walls of the tunnel here. The vault of the aqueduct is carved out in the rock. Section C enters the mountain but is half filled with sand; it crosses the mountain to the west side.
The park is officially only open in the morning from 9-12 h and not on Sundays.

Map of the Serino aqueduct in the Virgilio Park

A cross section of the Serino aqueduct can be seen opposite the entrance of the archaeological park of Baia, about 3 metres above the road on the north side; it is hard to distinguish from the surrounding yellow volcanic pyroclastic rocks, but consists of a masonry channel, built into an excavated gully in the rock.

Other aqueducts

Puzzuoli was also served by a small aqueduct coming from the north, locally known as the Campanian aqueduct. It probably predates the Serino aqueduct, and has a specus of 0,7m wide and 2m high. It ran from sources outside the city to the Piazza Principale in the low town of Puzzuoli. Ruins of this aqueduct can be seen near the amphitheatre, and to the north of the city.

Benevento was served by a 36 km long aqueduct that is sometimes associated with the Serino channel. Although the aqueduct has it source near Serino as well, it starts at a lower level from a source at 324 m, too low to have been used for the Serino aqueduct. The Benevento aqueduct ends in cisterns near the Arco di Tito at an altitude of 150m, and had a specus (near the source) of 70cm wide and 1.70m high. It was mostly covered with bipedales set against each other in gable-shape. The aqueduct crossed the Sabato river twice on bridges of a single arch. The aqueduct has a mean slope of 5m/km, or 0.5%. The slope varies along its length: from the source to Prato 0,1%; from Prato to Altavilla Irpina 0,7%; from Altavilla to Ceppaloni 1,3% and from Ceppaloni to Benevento 0,2%. Interestingly, the amount of sinter deposited on the specus wall seems to be thicker where the slope of the aqueduct is steeper.

Visible remains of the aqueducts

Serino aqueduct main branch:
  1. A small section of the aqueduct at the waterworks of Sarno in S Maria di Foce
  2. Remains of the channel between Sarno and Palma, at Tirone
  3. The arches of Ponti Rossi, Napoli, Via Ponti Rossi
  4. A small section of the aqueduct near Tomba di Virgilio, west-Naples
  5. In Via Tribunali, near St Paolo Maggiore; entrance to the aqueduct section and cisterns below the city. This is the side-branch that served Neapolis. A guided tour can be made.
  6. A small section of the aqueduct; on the tangential road NW of Puzzuoli, near Arco Felice
  7. The Pompeii branch can be seen at the back of the castellum aquae in Pompeii

C.W. Passchier


Item Info
Length km
Cross-section m x m
Volume m3/day
Fall %
Period Augustan

Recommended literature :
  • Uberto Potenza: Gli acquedotti Romani di Serino. Cura Aquarum in Campania (potenza1996)
  • Suzanna A.G. Piras: Cura Aquarum in Campania - Eine Einführung. (piras1996).
  • Mathias Döring: Wasser für den Sinus Baianus, Römische Ingenieur- und Wasserbauten der Phlegraeischen Felder. AW 2000, Nr.3 (doring2000)
  • There is also a novel where the Serino aqueduct is the main subject: Robert Harris' book Pompeii (2003)
Recommended website :
How to visit : See text above.
HOME More literature on more aqueducts Last modified: June, 2007 - (Webmaster)

The Serino and Benevento aqueducts

San Lucia fountain

San Maria della Force

Castellum in Pompeii

Ponti Rossi map

Ponti Rossi north

Ponti Rossi south

Serino aqueduct / Aqua Augusta

Tunnel of the Crypta

Virgilio Park

Section B

Section A

Section C

In the park

Portus Julius area

Near Baiae

Cape Misenum

Piscina Mirabilis


Longitudinal section

Augustus' inscription