Vasari aqueduct

TheVasari Aqueduct of Arezzo, one of the most fascinating works of hydraulic engineering in Tuscany, has characterised the north-eastern outskirts of the city for over four centuries.

In the 1st century A.D., the Roman Arretium was served by an aqueduct that channelled water from the Alpe di Poti, in Fonte Mura. The pipeline served its purpose for a long time, but by the end of the XIII century it was in a state of disrepair.

The painter, architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari recounts that Jacopo del Casentino was commissioned by the city government in the mid-14th century to design a new route. In the 1568 edition of his “Vite” (Lives), he reports that the artist from Pratovecchio had the conduit completed at the Fonte Veneziana, where the few remains of the artefact can still be seen today, in front of the Palace of Justice in Arezzo.

In the early XVI century, the XIV century aqueduct, which intercepted the water table in the Cognaia area, on the slopes of the Alpe di Poti, was in a very bad state. In 1527, the Fonte Veneziana stopped working, and among the culprits for the disruption, Vasari pointed to those Aretines who diverted the water course for their own convenience, such as watering gardens and fields.

The Fraternita dei Laici tried to put an end to the shortage of water supply, which was causing inconvenience to the population in the summer months, by deciding to bring a new pipeline into the city at its own expense. The rectors sought permission from Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and the Provveditori delle Fabbriche medicee (Medici factories supervisors), then entrusted the project to Giorgio Vasari himself, to whom we owe the first feasibility studies.

The man from Arezzo first devoted himself to researching the ancient “gargoyles” of Cognaia, and then considered how to deviate the last section of the old aqueduct and level the ground to bring the captured water up to the city walls. From there, however, it was necessary to reach Piazza Grande through a long tunnel.

In 1574, Vasari died, leaving everything in an embryonic state. A new period of stalemate followed until, in 1590, the rectors of the Fraternita dei Laici, with the approval of Grand Duke Ferdinando I dei Medici, commissioned architect Raffaele Pagni to take up the project again. The authorisation to build the new aqueduct, financed with 120,000 scudi, arrived on 16 May 1593. Work went on for several years and was completed in 1603 by architect Gherardo Mechini.

The final project consisted of two underground parts and an external part. Thanks to a filter tunnel, the water was channelled to reach the lower area of the San Fabiano hill. To the east of the city, surrounded by nature, we admire the ‘Conserve’, the barrel-vaulted deposits that serve as collection and purification points for the channelled water, which from here begins its journey towards the centre of Arezzo. Together with the “Conserva grande” and the “Conserva piccola”, visitors can also observe the aeration wells known as Smiragli.

A short distance from the Torre di Gnicche begins the open-air phase, made up of 52 monumental arches reminiscent of those of the aqueducts of the Roman era, which were used to support the hanging pipeline to the foot of the San Donato hill. Beyond the arches, the water route returns underground through a tunnel and then flows into the lower part of Piazza Grande, feeding an elegant monumental fountain designed in 1603 by Mechini himself as a worthy conclusion to the work.

Vasari Aqueduct, with the Duomo in the background

Vasari aqueduct

Vasari aqueduct

Vasari Aqueduct, with the Medici Fortress in the background

Conserva piccola

Smiraglio

Lion’s head found in the conserve.
National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art

Horse heads found in the conserve.
National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art

Fountain of Piazza Grande, Gherardo Mechini, 1603

Fountain of Piazza Grande, Gherardo Mechini, 1603

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