The Old Spiral Staircase

Posted on March 2, 2010


The old Spriral Staircase curls down for twenty-five metres into the eery space beneath the city of Rome, where archaeology and ancient tunnels have laid undisturbed since a forgotten time.
Peering down from the top as we prepared to film the aqueduct, we saw the shimmer of the purest water rippling yellow-gold lights right in the centre of the stairway where the ancient Aqueduct passes beneath.

But the entrance to the Pincio “Snail” as the Italians call a spiral stairway lies only sixty metres from a well known landmark where millions of tourists pass each year. At the top of Rome’s well loved Spanish Steps, adorned with young couples taking photos and giving roses, there is an impressive villa called Villa Medici. And to the side of the principal entrance to Villa Medici is a small door with an engraved stone: “Alla Chiociola del Pincio” – to the Pincio Snail.
The Aqua Virgo always passed across the Pincian Hill at the back of what are now the Spanish steps, and recently, since it was re-built and restored in the sixteenth century, a distribution tank was built there, which supplies, under pressure, many of the best known ornamental fountains in renaissance Rome, like Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Barcaccia in the adjacent Piazza di Spagna and his Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona.
Many of the wealthiest visitors to Rome take time to go shopping in via dei Condotti, right opposite the Spanish Steps. Here they find Gucci, Yves San Laurent, and many fine boutiques, but few of them know that via dei Condotti means the street of the conduits, and beneath their feet, lie pipes laid by the great renaissance architect Giaccomo della Porta in the 1500s to bring the water from the ancient Aqueduct to great renaissance fountains.
Half way down the Chiocciola there is a strange, unexplained chamber – and here we took the opportunity to put on our waders. Then as our speleologist, Marco Placidi gave the go-ahead, we lined up at the bottom of the stairway, and jumped the one metre and a half drop into the specus of the aqueduct and into the cold, fresh water.

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