Daily Life: Water supply

Fountain from the house of the great fountain

Water, water everywhere: Pompeii’s amazing aqueducts

In its first several centuries as a town, Pompeii got most of its water from underground cisterns, which were fed by rainwater collected from roofs. One of the perks of being part of the Roman Republic, however, was having access to all the latest technology, and in the early first century AD Pompeii constructed an aqueduct system to bring fresh, clean water from the hills 40 kilometres away. This water flowed into a roofed reservoir (castellum aquae) before dividing into three large lead pipes which ran under the pavements. Six-metre-high towers with lead tanks on top were built at intervals along these three pipelines. The 35-metre height difference between the castellum and the lowest point in the city meant that the water in the pipes was under pressure, allowing smaller pipes to carry water up to the tanks, then back down the towers to supply public fountains, houses, shops and facilities such as baths.

Water pipes usually entered houses at the front door and fed fountains at the side of the impluvium or in the peristyle or garden — the early forerunner of the running water in our homes today. Any overflow went into a drain which emerged in the road at the base of the kerbstones and was used to flush the streets of rubbish before ending up in storm drains which carried it neatly to the river.

Lavatories, while decidedly rare in other parts of the world at this time, were commonplace in sophisticated Pompeii, and often occupied a small room off the kitchen.

In these hygienic marvels, a wooden seat was built over a lavatory pit, which, when flushed with a bucket of water, discharged into a cesspit near the house or under the street.

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