Filming the Aqua Virgo

Posted on February 25, 2010


Cold, wet, in the pitch black, twenty-five metres under the city of Rome, we pushed forwards against the water of Marcus Vespanius Agrippa’s Aqueduct, which has flowed continuously since 19BC, and I prayed that our new high-definition camera wasn’t going to drop into the water and flow all the way back to the Trevi fountain.

Click here to watch our adventure in the Aqua Virgo under the Spanish steps.

Our first filming adventure inside an aqueduct was a one-off. We had spent six months negotiating for access to the Aqua Virgo and we knew we weren’t going to have a second chance. Wearing chest-high fishermen’s waders, which often barely covered us from the water, six of us set off from the “Pincio Snail” near the Spanish Steps, and began to push our way upstream.

Often a Roman Aqueduct is portrayed as being carried on elevated arches across the countryside, but in fact, this is only sometimes the case.  The Aqua Virgo has survived almost intact for so many centuries precisely because it travels underground for almost it’s entire route, from Salone on the ancient via Collatina in the east of the city, originally to Agrippa’s baths, of which the Pantheon formed part, and now to it’s display fountain, the Trevi, built in 1732-1762 By Nicolo Salvi.

We took took some very powerful lights to the Aqua Virgo, and we were able to light the underground chambers in a way which we believe has never been done before.  But it was not without difficulty.   We took two battery packs with mains inverters because the lights work on 240V, but only one of us was able to carry a battery pack, and within that pack, one of our batteries had become detached.

Our consultant speleologist was carrying both the battery pack and the light, whilst I was filming, and the 240V cable between the two very nearly dangled in the water on several occasions!  Very soon, furthermore, the mains inverter started to beep, indicating that we were running out of power, so for 40 minutes or so, we had to turn the lights off and push upstream with only the power of tiny safety lights we were wearing on our heads.
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