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ROMAN AQUEDUCT OF ALBARRACÍN-CELLA

 

versión española

 

The Roman aqueduct of Albarracín-Cella is probably the biggest work of the Roman engineering preserved at the present time in Aragon and one of the most important hydraulic work in the Iberian Peninsula.  At the same time for us it is a work a bit unusual and mysterious because we do not know exactly what was its use according to its high water flow: it seems that at first the aqueduct supplied water not to a large inhabited town, but only to a small Roman town that should be under the modern Cella and there are no archaeological remains that give us testimony of other Roman cities in this area; so the scholars think that, besides the urban use, the aqueduct had an eminently industrial or agricultural use, although we do not know to what kind of activity it was used; some scholars think that it is possible that it was used in fulling mills, forges or wheat mills that should be located in the area near the modern Cella.

 

Lumina of the aqueduct in the Gallery of the Mirrors. 

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

On the other hand, we can say that this aqueduct could be one of the first water diversions between different river basins in the history, because the aqueduct took water from the basin of the modern Guadalaviar-Turia and diverted it to the basin of the modern Jiloca-Jalón-Ebro.

The aqueduct of Albarracín-Cella is dated in the I century a. C., as most of the big works built in Hispania and in the modern Aragón in the Roman age.

 

Sign of the path to the aqueduct.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Related to its complexity the biggest problem in the building of the aqueduct was the long distance between the two extremes of it (about 25 kms between Albarracín and Cella) and the orography in its route, because the aqueduct, following partially the river bed of the Guadalaviar river, penetrated into the rocks of the Albarracín Sierra, so that, of course, the works became more complicated and it forced to make a route adapted to this orography and to exploit the level curves to keep an incline enough for the flowing of the water through the aqueduct.  However, we cannot forged that, although we used to call and consider an aqueduct the arches that support a channel, like the aqueducts of Segovia and Tarragona or the Pont du Gard in France, an aqueduct is the whole work of supplying water from its starting point in a mountain or a spring up to its arrival to a urban nucleus, and most part of these aqueducts is dug in the rock, it was underground and the arches were only a partial solution to avoid valleys, stream beds or bid unevenness of the terrain in the route of an aqueduct.  So, the aqueduct of Albarracín-Cella had not preserved –and probably never had- arches that overcame unevenness in some place of its route.

 

Gallery of the Mirrors.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

The plan of the aqueduct of Albarracín-Cella in its first section runs parallel to the Guadalaviar river from which it took water and soon it penetrated into the galleries dug in the rock that alternated with channel on the open air.  In short from its almost 25 kms 9 kms of the aqueduct were dug in the rock; the underground galleries, some time 60 metres deep related to the surface of the mountains, for example in the section from Gea de Albarracín and after cropping out to the surface near Cella, have wells to ventilate and lumina –windows to extract the mackerels during its construction and afterwards to make the works of cleaning of the aqueduct, putting away the mud, the branches and the residues-.  When the aqueduct run underground, the Romans made putei, i. e. wells to ventilation through which the workers entered in the aqueduct and through which they extract with pulleys the mackerels during its construction and afterwards the mud, the branches and the residues accumulated in the aqueduct due to its use.

 

Reconstruction of putei and construction of the specus of an aqueduct from the explanatory panels in the aqueduct of Albarracín-Cella.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Scholars calculate that in the construction of these underground galleries there were extracted 50.000m3 of rock; the channel –specus- along its route had in general and as average an unevenness of 3/1000 and the water volume that flowed through it should be 300 litres per second.

We do not know when the aqueduct stopped being used, but we know that it was not in use in the age of the Christian conquest, because the Christians had to create their own system of water supply (the wonderful and big artesian well of Cella, dated in the XII century, is a testimony of this need of water in the Christian age).  We also know that, after its abandonment, the galleries dug in the rock were used as shelter to shepherds and farmers and as lairs to animals during centuries.

 

Specus of the aqueduct in the open air near the Gallery of the Tunnel. 

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

A route to visit eight sections of the Roman aqueduct of Albarracín-Cella had been created; part of this route can be made on foot, because there is a path that allows visit four of the eight sections or interest points in the route of the aqueduct; this path connects Cella and Gea de Albarracín; it is rather to make the rest of the route by car and to get off the car in the interest and information points, because the whole route is too long (25 kms) and it runs parallel to the road, without a natural path to make the route. On the route there are indications of the interest points in white vertical signs where there are indicated these points 250 metres before and there is a parking near the road verge; in every interest point there is a big vertical panel explanatory of the aqueduct in general and afterwards there is a table with other explanatory panel related with the concrete section.  Our suggestion is to start the route in Albarracín.  The sections I, II and III are close the secondary road A-1512.  The section IV is located before arriving to Gea de Albarracín and it is possible arrive there with the car through a no asphalted track, but in good conditions.  The section V is after Gea and it is necessary to take other no asphalted track in good conditions too; here starts the path of the route on foot, on bicycle or on horse, 9,5 kms long up to Cella; if you make the route by car, our suggestion is to visit the point V and to come back to the road A-1512, because, although there are indications to arrive to the section VI, but in a point they are confuse and it is easy to get lost in the land tracks to agricultural tractors.  After coming back to the road A-1512 you must take the secondary road TE-V-9011 up to Cella and from here you can make the sections VI, VII y VIII, which can be made by car partially through land tracks in good conditions.

 

 

Sign of the path of the aqueduct.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Plan of the route of the Roman aqueduct of Albarrcín-Cella and the different interest points to visit.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Section I Azud del Albergue de Albarracín: although the mill dam is modern, according to the height above sea level, the plan and the remains of the aqueduct, the water collecting to the Roman aqueduct should be made in a point near to this mill dam.  This water collecting should be made thanks to a small dam –caput aquae- in the left bank of the river.  Probably the construction of the road A-1512 destroyed the first section of the aqueduct from the water collecting up to the galleries near Santa Croche castle.

 

Mill dam of the Albergue de Albarrcín.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Section II Gallery of the Mirrors and Tunnel near Santa Croche castle:  it is the first preserved section of the aqueduct, where it run through the mountain en dug galleries; after a short section in the open air, similar to a irrigation ditch, the aqueduct penetrates into the mountain, where the closeness of the specus to the outer side of the mountains allowed that many lumina were opened to the exterior.  In these galleries the average height is 1.95 metres and the width is 1,25 metres.

 

Gallery of thd Mirrors.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

Gallery of the Tunnel.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Section III Azud de Geal de Albarracín: near the mill dam in the river the aqueduct runs dug in the rock parallel to the abrupt mountain on the Guadalaviar river with many lumina in regular intervals.

 

Lumen in a gallery in the zone of the Azud de Gea de Albarracín. 

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

Gallery in the zone of the Azud de Gea de Albarracín. 

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Section IV: Barranco de los Burros (Donkeys gully):  probably this is the most spectacular section of the aqueduct due to its adaptation to the terrain and to the beauty of this narrow gully; instead of building arches to cross the gully –that supposed a problem of conservation of these structures-, the Roman engineers preferred, with a tight contour line, keeping the height above sea level and incline, that the aqueduct followed the curve of the gully and kept dug in the rocks, although the entry to the gully is made with a specus on the open air.  In the rock walls of the gully you can see lumina or luculi –small lumina- to ventilation and to extract mackerels and water residues from the aqueduct.

 

Loculi or lumina of the aqueduct in the Barranco de los Burros. 

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

Gallery in the Barranco de los Burros.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Section V Cañada de Monterde and Las Hoyas: in this section the aqueduct is still underground and it is possible to see the ventilation wells –putei- that in some cases had a big depth.

Section VI La Tejería: here you can see the two last wells –putei- of the aqueduct before it comes to the open air near Cella.  From here the aqueduct runs on the open air through Rubiol gully and it was made as an artificial channel whose walls were made of rough stone and mortar.

 

Puteus of the aqueduct in the area of La Tejería.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

Section VII Las Eras de Cella: along 2 kms the channel –specus- of the aqueduct runs on the open air, dug on the rock; the channel is 1 metre deep and 0,60 metres wide; you can see different parts of the aqueduct on the open air restored in the last years.

 

Section VIII Urban centre of Cella: it is the end of the aqueduct; we do not know where was the castellum aquae, i. e., the deposit of water distribution to the city, but archaeologist have discovered the remains of a big cistern recovered with hydraulic mortar –opus signinum- 15 metres long, 13 metres wide and 2,3 metres high with a capacity for 487,5 m3 water near the plaza Mayor.

 

 

Specus of the aqueduct on the open air near Cella.  (Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 23/04/2008)

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

- Informative pamphlet and explanatory panels of the Roman aqueduct of Albarracín-Gea-Cella