Zaghouan Aqueduct

Last updated
Zaghouan Aqueduct
Zaghouan aqueduc.jpg
Coordinates 36°36′57.8″N10°08′3.1″E / 36.616056°N 10.134194°E / 36.616056; 10.134194 Coordinates: 36°36′57.8″N10°08′3.1″E / 36.616056°N 10.134194°E / 36.616056; 10.134194
Begins Zaghouan
Ends Carthage (Tunis)
Total length132 km (82 mi)
Construction startFirst half of 2nd century AD
Zaghouan Aqueduct

The Zaghouan Aqueduct or Aqueduct of Carthage is an ancient Roman aqueduct, which supplied the city of Carthage, Tunisia with water. From its source in Zaghouan it flows a total of 132 km, making it amongst the longest aqueducts in the Roman Empire.



The date of the construction of the aqueduct is not entirely clear. Sources mention a visit by the Emperor Hadrian in 128, with which a five-year-long drought is meant to have come to an end. The water shortage resulting from the drought might have convinced him that the people should not rely only on rainwater any more. A second event which might have inspired it was the opening of the Baths of Antonius in Carthage in 162. These facilities on the same scale as the Imperial baths in Rome demanded a steady supply of water, which could not be fulfilled with rain water.


Remains of the sacred spring at Zaghouan Temple de l'eau (14).jpg
Remains of the sacred spring at Zaghouan

The aqueduct draws on several sources which ran dry at different times. The first and most important source is located near the town of Zaghouan in the Djebel Zaghouan, a mountain range about 60 km south of Carthage. In Roman times a sacred fountain structure was built over the spring, which became one of the most important in ancient North Africa.


The sacred fountain is located on an artificial terrace. It is open on the north side, and on the southern side there is an open space enclosed by a 4-metre-wide (13 ft), crescent-shaped portico. In the centre of the portico is a cella from which the spring sprang.

The outer wall had a core of Roman concrete covered with coarse limestone bossages. This wall continued from the ends of the crescent shaped portico and was divided into 26 sections be engaged columns. In every second section there is a niche for statues, which do not survive. Opposite each engaged column is a full column, which together once supported a vaulted peristyle. The vaults are made of porous travertine covered in marble, while the columns are sandstone. The exterior of the vault was sealed with waterproof Opus signinum and left without further protection. The floor of the portico was decorated with mosaic. The cella, as the most important part of the building was built from limestone and clad in marble.


There were five springs in the area of the sacred fountain. These were in the area of the artificial terrace in their original, underground bed and gathered in a basin under the terrace. From this basin the water then flowed into the pipe of the aqueduct. As well as feeding the aqueduct intake, the basin also served to clean the water - while the water sat in the basin, impurities would settle on the bottom.

Second source

In Severan times, a second source was attached to the aqueduct. This was located in the region of Djouggar. A sacred fountain was built over this spring too, but it never reached the significance of the one at Zaghouan.

Water channel

Map of the channels running from Zaghouan and Jouggar to Tunis (1928) Adduction zaghouan tunis.jpg
Map of the channels running from Zaghouan and Jouggar to Tunis (1928)
Restored section on the plane of La Soukra, shortly before Carthage Zaghouane Aqueduc.JPG
Restored section on the plane of La Soukra, shortly before Carthage

Technical data

The aqueduct is a masterpiece of Roman engineering. In the journey from Zaghouan to Carthage, it travels a little over 90 km and drops only 264 m in height, which is an average decline of 0.3%. However, 130 m of the height difference occurs in the first 6 km from Zaghouan to Moghrane. For the rest of the journey to Carthage, the decline averages only 0.15%. In Moghrane the aqueduct met the later channel coming from Djouggar, another 33 km away. Including all its tributary channels, the aqueduct has a length of 132 km and is among the longest in the Roman empire.

The channel discharged between 200 and 370 l of water per second or between 17 and 32 million litres per day. The flow rate was around 3.5 and 5.5 km per hour. Therefore, the water made the journey from Zaghouan to Carthage in between a day and a half and two days.


The channel was built such that it had a steady, if not uniform, fall, so that the water would travel the route by the force of gravity alone. In order to minimise the building work, the channel was laid on or a little under the Earth's surface where possible. In order to avoid unnecessary loss of height, the channel follows the countours of hills. In three places it was not possible for the channel to remain at ground level, so the engineers erected imposing arcades. They are:


In cross-section, the channel measures about 90 cm in width and 130 cm in height. It was closed on top by a vault. The walls were made from Roman cement and were clad with sandstone bossage. The part of the channel which came in contact with water was further clad in waterproof opus signinum. The screed also served to smooth the channel's rate of decline. Ventilation was provided by small, square openings in the roof. At regular intervals on the base of the channel there were circular depressions, which served to purify the water, since detritus would settle in them. To continue to operate, these had to be cleaned out regularly, so the channel required ongoing care and attention


View of a vault of the cistern at La Malga Carthage aqueducts 2.jpg
View of a vault of the cistern at La Malga

The distribution of the water within Carthage is not yet entirely clear. It seems that the channel discharged into two cisterns and the water was further distributed from these. To date, however, archaeological excavations have found no sure signs of discharge into the cisterns.

Cisterns of La Malga

The cisterns of La Malga form the largest cisterns surviving from the ancient world anywhere. They held approximately 51 million litres. Based on the nature of the mortar, they are dated to the first century AD. It is not yet clear how these cisterns were used in that period, since the aqueduct had not yet been built and this enormous volume could never have been filled by rainwater alone.

Cistern of Bordj Djedid

The cistern of Bordj Djedid is made up of 18 barrel-shaped basins arranged in parallel and held between 25 and 30 million litres. It was responsible for supplying the Baths of Antonius. The construction date is unknown, but modifications have been detected in connection with the construction of the Baths of Antonius, implying that the cistern preceded the baths.

Later usage

Since the water supply was essential for the city, the aqueduct was destroyed during the Vandal siege of 439, the Eastern Roman reconquest under Justinian and finally at the conquest of Carthage by the Arabs in 698, but each time it was subsequently restored. In the thirteenth century one of the Hafsid rulers added a branch leading to his palace in Manouba in order to supply water for his garden. From the sixteenth century, the aqueduct deteriorated rapidly and was employed as a stone quarry.

In 1859 a French engineer received the task of restoring the water channel in order to supply Tunis with water. While the majority of the channels at ground level could be reused, the parts of the channel on pillars were mostly destroyed and a modern pressure pipe system was installed. Since it was put into operation in 1862, the channel has remained in use and today it supplies an average of 12,000,000 L per day in winter and 3,000,000 in summer.

See also


Related Research Articles

Fountain Architecture which pours water into a basin or jets it into the air

A fountain is a structure which squirts water into a basin to supply drinking water. It is also a structure that jets water into the air for a decorative or dramatic effect.

Baths of Caracalla

The Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy, were the city's second largest Roman public baths, or thermae, likely built between AD 212 and 216/217, during the reigns of emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla. They were in operation until the 530s and then fell into disuse and ruin.


Glanum was an ancient and wealthy city which still enjoys a magnificent setting below a gorge on the flanks of the Alpilles mountains. It is located about one kilometre south of the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Cloaca Maxima One of the worlds earliest sewage systems

The Cloaca Maxima was one of the world's earliest sewage systems. Constructed in Ancient Rome in order to drain local marshes and remove the waste of one of the world's most populous cities, it carried effluent to the River Tiber, which ran beside the city.

Zaghouan Place in Zaghouan Governorate, Tunisia

Zaghwan is a town in the northern half of Tunisia.

Tunnel of Eupalinos

The Tunnel of Eupalinos or Eupalinian aqueduct is a tunnel of 1,036 m (3,399 ft) length running through Mount Kastro in Samos, Greece, built in the 6th century BC to serve as an aqueduct. The tunnel is the second known tunnel in history which was excavated from both ends, and the first with a geometry-based approach in doing so. Today it is a popular tourist attraction.

Aqua Virgo

The Aqua Virgo was one of the eleven Roman aqueducts that supplied the city of ancient Rome. It was completed in 19 BC by Marcus Agrippa, during the reign of the emperor Augustus and was built mainly to supply the contemporaneous Baths of Agrippa in the Campus Martius.

Roman aqueduct

The Romans constructed aqueducts throughout their Republic and later Empire, to bring water from outside sources into cities and towns. Aqueduct water supplied public baths, latrines, fountains, and private households; it also supported mining operations, milling, farms, and gardens.

Sanitation in ancient Rome was well advanced compared to other ancient cities and was providing water supply and sanitation services to residents of Rome. Although there were many sewers, public latrines, baths and other sanitation infrastructure, disease was still rampant. The baths are known to symbolise the "great hygiene of Rome". Although the baths may have made the Romans smell good, they were a cesspool of waterborne diseases.

Aqua Traiana

The Aqua Traiana was a 1st-century Roman aqueduct built by Emperor Trajan and inaugurated on 24 June 109 AD. It channelled water from sources around Lake Bracciano, 40 kilometers (25 mi) north-west of Rome, to Rome in ancient Roman times but had fallen into disuse by the 17th century. It fed a number of water mills on the Janiculum, including a sophisticated mill complex revealed by excavations in the 1990s under the present American Academy in Rome. Some of the Janiculum mills were famously put out of action by the Ostrogoths when they cut the aqueduct in 537 during the first siege of Rome. Belisarius restored the supply of grain by using mills floating in the Tiber. The complex of mills bears parallels with a similar complex at Barbegal in southern Gaul.


Chemtou or Chimtou was an ancient Roman-Berber town in northwestern Tunisia, located 20 km from the city of Jendouba near the Algerian frontier. It was known as Simitthu in antiquity.

Aqueduct of Valens

The AqueductofValens was a Roman aqueduct system built in the late 4th century AD, to supply Constantinople – the capital of the eastern Roman empire. Construction of the aqueduct began during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantius II and was completed in 373 by the emperor Valens. The aqueduct remained in use for many centuries. It was extended and maintained by the Byzantines and the Ottomans.

Pont dAël

The Pont d'Aël is a Roman aqueduct, located in a village of the same name in the comune of Aymavilles in Aosta Valley, northern Italy. It was built in the year 3BC for irrigation purposes and supplying water for the newly founded colony of Augusta Praetoria, which is now known as Aosta. The water was directed through a neighbouring valley 66 m above the floor of the Aosta valley, through a sophisticated system. The aqueduct is 6km long in total. In addition to its unusual position, the construction, which was originally thought to be a three-story structure, shows more unique features such as a control corridor below the water line, as well as explicit private funding. Today, the water channel of the aqueduct serves as a public walking trail.

Aqueduct (water supply) Structure constructed to convey water

An aqueduct is a watercourse constructed to carry water from a source to a distribution point far away. In modern engineering, the term aqueduct is used for any system of pipes, ditches, canals, tunnels, and other structures used for this purpose. The term aqueduct also often refers specifically to a bridge carrying an artificial watercourse. Aqueducts were used in ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and ancient Rome. In modern times, the largest aqueducts of all have been built in the United States to supply large cities. The simplest aqueducts are small ditches cut into the earth. Much larger channels may be used in modern aqueducts. Aqueducts sometimes run for some or all of their path through tunnels constructed underground. Modern aqueducts may also use pipelines. Historically, agricultural societies have constructed aqueducts to irrigate crops and supply large cities with drinking water.

Cisterns of the Roman Baths, Beirut

Cisterns of the Roman Baths are archaeological remains built during Roman times and are located in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. The cisterns were built in order to store and supply water to Roman Berytus.

Cisterns of La Malga

The Cisterns of La Malga or Cisterns of La Mâalga are a group of cisterns, which are among the most visible features of the archaeological site of Carthage near Tunis, Tunisia. They are some of the best preserved Roman cisterns.

Caños de Carmona

The Caños de Carmona are the remains of a Roman aqueduct 17.5 kilometres long, later rebuilt by the Almohads, which connected the cities of Carmona and Seville, and which was fully operational until its demolition in 1912.

Feradi maius

Pheradi Majius is a locality and archaeological site in Tunisia located at 36.250003°N 10.397047°E near the modern town of Sidi Khalifa in Sousse Governorate, Tunisia that is located at 36° 14′ 58″ N, 10° 23′ 57″E.

The Cerrato Cellars, also locally known as Cantine Cerrato, are an underground archaeological monument of Bovino, in the province of Foggia in Apulia (Italy) and consist of two rooms belonging to a cistern of the Roman period. The cellars are located in the historic center of Bovino, under the urban block between the cathedral and tree nearby streets, about three meters deep from the current street level. The remains are accessible from via Torino, but the underground areas extend for over 20 meters and continue underneath other buildings.