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Ancient Roman Aqueduct of Arezzo

Location: Arezzo, Arezzo, Italy

June 17, 2013 to July 5, 2013

Deadline Type: 

Program Type

Field school

RPA certified



University of Rochester and Accademia Petrarca di Arezzo

Project Director:

Elizabeth Colantoni (University of Rochester) and Cynthia Ebinger (University of Rochester) in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Rochester, the Accademia Petrarca di Arezzo and the University of Southampton

Project Description

Arezzo, which first developed in about the sixth century B.C.E., was in origin one of the most prominent cities of ancient Etruria.  After falling into the orbit of Rome, Arezzo became, by the first century A.D., the center of the largest and most important pottery manufacturing industry in the Roman Empire.   Cities of the Roman Empire were typically endowed with a basic infrastructure that included roads, bridges, a central forum or plaza, public buildings, and aqueducts, and, as an important city, Arezzo was certainly no exception.  In the case of an aqueduct at Arezzo, however, there is little direct evidence: no ancient text records the presence of such a structure, and there are no obvious and undisputable extant physical remains. 

Nonetheless, it seems likely that a city of Arezzo’s stature would have needed and indeed had an aqueduct, and there is some physical evidence that may pertain to such a structure.  Possible remains include a large underground cistern in the area of the ancient settlement and, in the city’s hinterland, what may be part of a conduit bridge and isolated elements of Roman masonry and concrete.  A possible water source has also been identified.  Great lengths of Roman aqueduct channels were routinely directed underground, with no visible surface markers, and it is thus quite feasible that underground elements of Arezzo’s aqueduct still exist even though the aqueduct as a whole is no longer readily evident.

Working from our current hypothesis concerning the route of the aqueduct based on engineering and hydrological requirements—that is, having identified an appropriate water source and, in general terms, a path that meets the engineering specifications of a structure that must move water along a very steady and gradual slope to a suitably elevated entry point into the city and very likely involved the presence of an extended inverted syphon—we are using geophysical and archaeological methodologies to test and refine this initial hypothesis.  The ground-penetrating radar and magnetic imaging studies focus on the identification of regular, man-made structures in the subsurface (and thus currently invisible) along the proposed path of the aqueduct.  The archaeological component of the project includes: cleaning, inspection, and analysis of the possible remains currently known; intensive pedestrian survey as appropriate; and limited scale excavation of potential elements of the aqueduct (including those identified through geophysical survey) to uncover them and establish their technical functions and dates of construction.  As we gain further information about the path of the aqueduct through geophysical and archaeological means, we will refine our hypothesis about the route and functioning of the aqueduct in engineering terms.

The program course includes a pre-departure component in which participants receive instruction in the engineering of ancient Roman aqueducts and in geophysical prospection.  The class then spends three weeks in Arezzo, where students learn through hands-on work to carry out archaeological excavation and geophysical surveys with a magnetic gradiometer and ground-penetrating radar.  In conjunction with the geophysical fieldwork, students learn data acquisition and processing basics, how to interpret results in a Geographic Information System (GIS) environment, and to evaluate the pros and cons of each method of geophysical prospection.   Participants also learn about the history and archaeology of ancient Arezzo through lectures, readings, and guided museum and archaeological site visits.  Participants live in the historic center of Arezzo, a small but vibrant city in Tuscany that has a rich cultural history stretching back to at least the sixth century BC.  The program is focused on ancient Arezzo, but participants will also have the opportunity to explore modern Arezzo. 

Enrollment priority will be given to students at the University of Rochester and other institutions in western New York who can attend pre-departure sessions in Rochester.  If space is available and other arrangements can be made for inclusion in the pre-departure sessions (e.g. electronically), applications from prospective participants at other universities will also be considered.

Although the preferential application deadline has passed, spaces are still available.  Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until all spaces have been filled.

Period(s) of Occupation: Roman

This course provides a unique opportunity to learn about and participate in a collaborative international research project aimed at tracing the route of the ancient Roman aqueduct of Arezzo, Italy. Little survives of the aqueduct above the ground surface today, and the goal of the study is to use geophysical, archaeological, and engineering research methodologies to establish the route of the aqueduct as well as to understand better the history and technical features of the aqueduct. This is an excellent opportunity to work closely in a one-on-one setting with professional scholars and to participate in original interdisciplinary research while also receiving course credit and seeing a beautiful and interesting part of the world.

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Full program

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

Participants live in dorm-style accommodations in the historic center of Arezzo, with one or two people in each room.  Rooms are equipped with bathroom and shower.  Breakfast and lunch are provided during the week.  Breakfast is self-service, with milk, fruit, cookies, coffee, and tea available.  Lunch is taken picnic-style in the field.  Note that participants are responsible for their own dinner during the week (with some exceptions) and also meals on weekends.  Participants will have access to a small shared kitchen.  Occasional meals out are provided as a part of the program as well.

$3,800 plus airfare and some meals

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
University of Rochester
Number of credits offered 6 credits in Earth and Environmental Sciences or Classics
Included in the program cost


Contact Information
Elizabeth Colantoni
Department of Religion and Classics, University of Rochester, Box 270074
Recommended Bibliography: 

A. Ademollo (1989), “L’acquedotto romano di Arezzo” in Atti e Memorie della Accademia Petrarca di Lettere, Arti e Scienze 51: 215-228