16th century aqueduct found in Italian hamlet

Monte Cicerale aqueduct entrance discovered during brush clearing. Photo courtesy Simone Gioia.Two forestry workers have discovered a 16th century aqueduct in the southern Italian hamlet of Monte Cicerale. Franco Avenia and Edoardo Palumbo were clearing underbrush and brambles in a wooded area above the highway when they stumbled across a small stone structure partially embedded into a hillside. A square opening in the structure led to an underground passage. The two contacted a friend of theirs, local historian Simone Gioia, who quickly ran to join them in exploring the find.

Grown man squeezes himself into 1500s aqueduct. Photo courtesy Simone Gioia.Crawling on his hands and knees through very constricted spaces, he found the oldest part of the network was a tunnel dating to around 1500. On the ground in the center of this tunnel runs an overlapping series of earthenware tiles that create a channel. Hard water rich in calcium still flows over the tiles. Their downward slope allows the water to flow indefinitely — the same gravity tech the Romans used in their aqueducts, although they went much longer distances and thus had far shallower inclines.

Monte Cicerale aqueduct with earthenware tile water channel. Photo courtesy Simone Gioia.Avenia, Palumbo and Gioia explored about 50 meters (164 feet) of the aqueduct, which was pretty damn bold of them because those tunnels are just barely big enough to fit a grown man on all fours. Simone Gioia described it as “a beautiful, albeit claustrophobic, experience.” He also noted the aqueduct is in an exceptional state of preservation.

Detail of stone walls. Photo courtesy Simone Gioia.Monte Cicerale is on the ancient Via Poseidonia that led from the ancient Greek colony of Paestum (it was called Poseidonia by the Greeks) to the very heart of the Cilento region in Campania. It has a tiny population of 312 souls, but the town of Cicerale, less than a mile away, can boast 1,200 residents. Even in the 1500s these were remote hilltop communities, sparsely populated with very limited infrastructure. The people were hard-working, poor and primarily engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry, fields of endeavor that require a steady supply of water. It seems they built themselves an aqueduct to ensure that supply using local stone and what look to me like roof tiles. They did an unreservedly great job of it too, as the photographs show. It is a true feat of engineering.

Bat friend wonders who turned on the damned lights in this aqueduct. Photo courtesy Simone Gioia.Archaeological remains attesting to the rural history of the Cilento region are extremely rare. The aqueduct is, as far as anyone knows, the oldest, most intact and most significant surviving example of this material history.

There’s no word on a professional excavation of the site, but local authorities expect the regional Collapsed stones in one of the tunnels. Photo courtesy Simone Gioia.Archaeological Superintendency to study the aqueduct, especially now that it’s made regional and national headlines (and I guess international ones too, if I count).

Simone Gioia has dozens of photographs of the aqueduct in a photo album on his Facebook page. He has also uploaded video of his exploration of the tunnels. The quality is not very good, but that’s to be expected given the circumstances. They do a fine job of conveying the constricted spaces and the excitement of the find.

Here’s his first visit:


Here’s the second:



8 thoughts on “16th century aqueduct found in Italian hamlet

  1. To me, this seems to be a rather strange ‘aqueduct’. From where is it ‘ducting’ water to which destination and why ?

    I do have certain ideas about ‘classic’ Roman ‘aqueducts’ and ancient Hellenic ones. Also, in the 16th century, ‘channels’ where not completely unheard of.

    Therefore, where does our structure fit in ? Would it possibly count as a ‘cistern’ ?

    1. They haven’t found the source yet, since the discovery is very new and exploration is challenging, as the videos show. There does appear to be a reservoir or cistern, but it’s just one chamber in an extended network of tunnels which are certainly acqueducts.

  2. I am intrigued by this. Know it was common for castles etc to have water brought in. And of course, the amazingly engineered aquaducts of ancient Rome. What appeals to me about this is that it appears to have been a community project, applying engineering that perhaps was more common than we realize– because we haven’t looked for it. (I am also familiar with some of the water systems of the Americas, wonderful communal projects. I like to picture the joint efforts of the community, the hands working together to create this small-scale aquaduct (and yes, that is the proper term). As I watched the locals excitedly explore their find, it made me think about when it was finally finished and the water was flowing into what does appear to be a reservoir. I can see wine and food being shared, and singing and dancing as the community celebrated their accomplishment.

    1. Well said. It reminds me of the traditional dry stone walls farmers in Connecticut used as boundary markers. Some of them are so flawlessly constructed even hundreds of frigid Connecticut winters and sweltering Connecticut summers couldn’t break them down. They are so beautiful and so characterstic of the state’s history that they have become subject to widespread thievery. Everyone from random passersby to condo developers steal historic stone walls which they then reconstruct, terribly, I might add, for their pet projects. They can’t build like the farmers did, so they mortar them together in these ridid lines and they look ridiculous. It’s a major cultural heritage preservation problem for the state.

  3. I do hope that there is an examination of the aquaduct, a study of the design and methods used, and a map of the system itself.

  4. There was an old dairy down the road from our farm that had been in operation from the mid-19th cen. until the late 1950’s. In two of their hillside pastures there was an approx. 4ft. high by 6ft. wide stone slab tunnels, sides and floor, going back in the hill.

    My great Uncle and I would go up there as we leased the pasture. I looked in the main entrance of one with the late afternoon sun shining down it. I couldn’t see the end.

    As my great Uncle had worked on the dairy as a young man, I asked what it was. He told me they were spring fed troughs. That puzzled me a bit and I asked how they knew where to dig. His answer was that they looked for the best perennial springs on the hillsides. When they found good seeps they sent for some quarrymen from a quarry they owned, to dig back into the hillside to a point of increased flow. They added the slabs for water flow and tunnel stability.

    My guess is the Campanian’s did it the same way? A lot of those quarrymen were from southern Italy and Sicily.

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