Water Supply


A wooden water pipe from Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, U.S.A., installed circa 1810. Photo: Army Corps of Engineers/Public Domain
Engraving of Roman drinking water system from Vitruvius Pollio (1521): De architectura. Public Domain.

Today every city has a water supply and a sewage system, transporting fresh water into any house, and used water from houses and factories to the purification plant. In less environment friendly countries, the sewage is sometimes conducted into the next river or the sea. And this system of water tubes is typically, you guessed it: underground.


Fresh water passages are much rarer than sewers. Modern water supply uses rather small tubes, and the water has a certain pressure, transporting it up into upper floors of houses. But historic water supplies used a different physical principle as there was no knowledge, how to build pressure lines. Canals were built, which had a constant downgrade. The main problem was to overcome valleys and mountains. The Romans were the first who built huge aquaeducts across valleys and tunnels through hills.

This kind of water transport is still very common all over the world. But it is more common in third world countries and for special uses: water for irrigation is often transported this way. Famous irrigation systems exist in Israel as well as in Switzerland, on Madeira and on Hawai'i.

Although irrigation systems with tunnels are interesting for showcaves.com, Roman and medieval water supply systems are much more common tourist attractions.

And medieval water supply system often combine the transport of the water with the collection. Built into water containing sandstone layers, the passages collect fresh water and this water is an important strategic factor for a medieval town. The water warden is an important person and the location of the tunnels is top secret.