De Aqua

To be able to understand current studies on the primary role of water and its importance for life it is essential to adopt a holistic approach. Science is currently facing the study of water by combining quantum electrodynamics, biology, physical chemistry, biochemistry, and microbiology, and this is enabling us to discover new boundaries that have hitherto been unexplored.

After having dealt with some physical and chemical-physical aspects, we now begin a deepening with a holistic approach.

It seems important to me to start with a little bit of history.

For Leonardo da Vinci, water is the driving force of nature.

In human progress, water is of fundamental importance. Irrigation and invention of agriculture, waterwheel and processing of metals, sea and art of navigation and, more generally, almost every

great turning point in the history of humanity has had the water as a protagonist.

The Egyptians knew very well the water (Amenem-et in 1800 B.C. made dam of an entire lake); in three millennia they made dams, canals, reservoirs, spits that remained in use until the times of Cleopatra. In some pyramids, components such as caps, rings, cup joints, copper tubes, etc. have been found. The Egyptians had great ability to identify groundwater. The famous “well of Joseph” (3000 B.C.) near the pyramid of Ghizeh is 90 m deep.

The Cretans were famous for the grandeur of the plants. Between 3000 and 1500 B.C. they created sophisticated wastewater treatment systems. After refreshing himself at the inn, the Minoan citizen reached the palace. Near the palace, for those who came from far to confer to court, there was a public inn, which could be accessed only after stopping in a large room used as a convivial foot bath.

The population of the rich and flourishing civilization of Olinto (348 B.C.) liked to enjoy the luxury of big and small things, among which, for example the bathtub, ignoring that it had been invented 1000 years ago in Crete. At the time of Hippocrates (400 B.C.) in every gym there were showers (cold, of course), in the residences there were cups and latrines and the water supply facilities were of great value. Hippocrates indicated precisely how the shower systems had to be made where the water gushed from masks mounted on columns all around. Hesiod condemned the use of hot water because effeminate.

Archimedes’ screw (also called còclea) is an elementary device used to lift a liquid, or a sandy, gravelly, or crushed material. Today it is also used to produce electricity.

It is attributed to Archimedes on the basis of the testimonies of Diodoro Siculo and of Ateneo. However, recent studies indicate that it could be much earlier than Archimedes as it was used to irrigate the hanging gardens of Babylon. Archimedes, in Alexandria for studies, would have imported in Italy the instrument already known in the Middle-Eastern area; the testimony of Ateneo could support this theory.

Important hydraulic works were also carried out in Jerusalem.

In the VIII century B.C. Hezekiah made two galleries, one of which is an example of engineering among the most daring of antiquity; it crosses the mountain from side to side and, halfway along it is written in Hebrew the day the stonebreakers met. In Jerusalem there is an excavation with a spiral staircase and a tunnel that allowed access to a natural underground cave outside the walls where there was and still is the water that flows. These precautions were used during sieges. The need for “pure” water forced two separate plants.

Herod the Great built a stunning hydraulic enterprise consisting of complex underground canals and huge basins and cisterns. He also built other external cisterns filled daily by thousands of slaves and pack animals. There was also an important thermal establishment just like the Roman ones.

The “Civis romanus” after a “pallacorda” match in the “sphaeristerium”, accessed heated to the “tepidarium” where he was sweating dressed; then he entered the “apodysterium” and, naked, was massaged by the servants with his oils and ointments. If messy it was washed and scraped. After the bath he reached the “calidarium” where he was sweating and conversing. A further sweat to the “laconicum” (torrid because above the “hypocaustum”) where it was washed with jugs of warm and cold recycled water. Then it was scraped with “strigilis” and finally rinsed with a soft sponge. Finally massage with scented oil, possible cold bath in the “frigidarium” and chat with friends until sunset.

Some ideas taken from “DE aqueductu urbis Romae” of Sesto Giulio Frontino (1).

“… The cause of this is attributable to the dishonesty of the fontaneros, who I discovered derive water from the basins for private use. But also a large number of landowners in whose fields runs the aqueduct drills the pipelines, so it happens that the aqueducts slow down their run for the benefit of individuals or to irrigate the gardens. On transgressions of this kind we could not say more or better than what Celio Rufo has shown in his speech … “” …. For this reason it was decided to separate all the aqueducts and reclassify them individually, so that first of all the whole water was used for drinking, the others according to the specific quality were assigned to the appropriate uses. The Anio Vetus, for various reasons and since it is picked up lower and is less clear, was used to irrigate the gardens and for the most modest uses of the city …… ”

Vitruvio(2) in the eighth book by De Architectura reports:

“One of the seven wise men, Thales of Miletus, pointed in the water the principle of everything ….
… Those who exercise priestly dignity according to the Egyptian rite give a demonstration of the fact that at the foundation of everything there is the strength of the water. This is why, when in a jug the water is brought into the sacred enclosure and in the temple with sacred veneration, then they prostrate themselves on the ground and raising their hands to the sky give thanks to the divine generosity for this invention ……
… ..None of the vaulted ceilings in the bath rooms may have a source above them, but the concave surface of the vault, which is overheated by the inflamed steam coming from the warm rooms, attracts the water from the floor, he carries it with him in the curvature of the rooms and holds it due to the hot steam that always pushes upwards ……

…… There are some sour acid veins …. that have the power, if drunk, to dissolve the kidney stones that are formed in the bladder of the human body … ..

… ..In Italy and in the Alps, in the country of Medulies, there is a type of water that makes the throat swell to those who drink it “.

The Middle Ages did not honor the water and for this reason it was characterized by stinking centuries, notorious for the numerous contagious diseases, epidemic and virulent for the foul sores, the invasions of fleas, flies and rats, floods of excrement, waste, dirt of all kinds, from stagnant waters and contaminated by any kind of disease.

However, convents and abbeys were equipped with water supply and drainage systems. It is said that a monk with hot spirits, for example, could be punished with an ice-bath, or sit on his own with his back in a tub full of cold water. The bathroom was expected no more than 3 – 4 times a year. A few extra baths were allowed for the sick.

The non-use of water and plants brought diseases, invasions of insects and rats that came in waves. Panic, death and despair were the daily bread above all of the ignorant vulgar. The only way was the escape by charging the dead bodies of their dead shoulders to throw them into open mass graves from which emanated a stench so unbearable as to prevent people from approaching.

However, the first toilets are just from this age.

The Turkish baths, above all in the licentious Constantinople, became centers of attraction in which splendid girls danced pleasantly naked in water games that were a prelude to libertine meetings. In fact they subsequently turned into brothels.

In 1527, due to the sack of Rome, Clement VII arrived in Orvieto. Fearing to remain without water he had a well of 61 meters deep and more than 13 meters wide. In memory of the most famous one found in the cathedral of Dublin, it was called St. Patrick’s well. On this well there is the inscription: “Quod natura movimento inviderat, industria adiecit” (where nature is lacking, the intervention of the plant engineer is required).

This period was very fertile with inventions of machines of all kinds, among which many suitable for the exploitation of hydraulic and wind energy as a driving force.

In this period the first washbasins and the first luxury bathtubs (comfortable) appear, while there has been an aversion towards the bidet that still remains in the wide fringes of the Anglophone peoples.

In my opinion The most beautiful monument that the humanity has dedicated to water is Villa d’Este in Tivoli (Italy)(3).

“… wherever you turn the watch gushes into it in so many ways and with such a splendid design that it does not exist on all the earth that in this genre is not much less …”(4).

Gianfranco Pellegrini

Turin (Italy)

(1)    Sesto Giulio Frontino was born around 40 A.D. in Gaul of Narbonense. His cursus honorum is characteristic of a pre-eminent exponent of the senatorial oligarchy, and this would confirm his kinship with the knight Aulo Giulio Frontino, who married Cornelia Africana, the only daughter of Publio Cornelio Scipione. He became curator aquarum (superintendent of the Rome aqueducts) in 97 A.D., under the emperor Nerva.

(2)    Marco Vitruvio Pollione (in Latin: Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, about 80 B.C. – after about 15 B.C.) was a Roman architect and writer, active in the second half of the first century B.C., considered the most famous theorist of architecture of all time.

(3)    The Villa d’Este in Tivoli is a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance and is listed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

(4) Letter of Uberto Foglietta to Flavio Orsino, 1569


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