Athens' Hadrian Aqueduct

The water-tank at Dexameni Square, Kolonaki

Athens’ Hadrian Aqueduct was built in 140 A.D. and is the only Roman Aqueduct – of this type and size- that has been constructed in Europe and still carries water. It has a length of 20 km, while it departs from the fringes of Mount Parnitha and ends up in two water tanks (built in 1870) in Dexameni square (“Dexameni” means water-tank), located at Kolonaki area . Hadrian’s alignment design follows the smoother way existing to connect these two places – in terms of difference in altitude. The running water comes due to water abstraction from the underground aquifer, as also from waters streams that the aqueduct comes across. The aqueduct connects neighborhoods of the Municipalities of Acharnes, Metamorfosi, Heraklion, Marousi, Chalandri, Pilothei-Psychiko and Athens. The water is suitable for irrigation and other non-drinking uses.

Due to the inclination, water flows naturally inside the aqueduct’s underground tunnel (of 1,2m -1,6m height and 0,8m width). Hadrian was constructed through drilling 465 water-wells along the length of its alignment design. What they used to do was starting digging the tunnel from two adjacent water-wells at the same time, until meeting each other.These water-wells  -visible till today-  used to serve also for ventilation, lighting and cleaning of the tunnel. Hadrian Aqueduct was cleaned and repaired at various times between 1870 and 1932 – when parts of it were included in the new water supply network of Athens that Ulen water-company constructed.

Sketch of aqueduct's construction  (source: M. Kaika, “Dams as Symbols of Modernization: The Urbanization of Nature Between Geographical Imagination and Materiality”, School of Geography, Oxford University)
Water-well at Marousi area
Map of Hadrian Aqueduct's route (source: M. Kaika, “Dams as Symbols of Modernization: The Urbanization of Nature Between Geographical Imagination and Materiality”, School of Geography, Oxford University)
 The Hadrian Aqueduct Today

Today, Hadrian has been destroyed in several parts due to decaying, as also due to city development above it (engineering works due to Metro construction, Olympic games etc) – nevertheless, from its construction till today, Hadrian still carries water through water abstraction from the underground aquifers that crosses by. Today, the Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP) is responsible for Hadrian Aqueduct, inheriting it from Ulen, as an inactive part of the whole water-supply network.

Until today, 390 water-wells of the aqueduct have been located. 228 of them are visible and 174 of them happen to be in public spaces.  Until today, this unique aqueduct –in terms of European Cultural Heritage- remains obscure both as a monument and as a water resource as well. The Municipality of Metamorfosi is the only one, until today, that uses the aqueduct’s water in order to water the 80% percent of the municipal green areas¹.

Τhe aqueduct runs under seven municipalities with different characteristics: Staring from Acharnes and the Olympic Village –an area neglected, with very low connection to the city centre, passing under several suburbs and ending up to Kolonaki (which is one of the most rich and central Athenian neighborhood) Hadrian aqueduct implies a possible network amongst different worlds. Thus, a challenging, yet fertile condition for collaboration and interaction amongst students with different backgrounds and everyday lives is emerging. 

¹Source of text:

EYDAP (Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company), Executive Division of Coordination & Supportive Operations, Division of Environmental Affairs, Research & Development, Department of Evaluating and Supporting  new Activities: Preliminary Research –Master Plan (due to students’ placement)“Proposal on the enhancement of Hadrian Aqueduct”, Athens, September 2019

The Qanat of the city of Palermo (900 A.C)

Qanat is a wonderful underground hydraulic engineering work. This name, as many ones in Sicily, comes from the early occupations by the Arabs and in English, means “channel.” The name used to indicate the complex of underground aqueducts (ten kilometers long) that was built in the Arab era to bring water to the surface. The tunnels have lasted over the centuries, and date back to the period that goes from the Arab domination to that of the Normans, who learned the technique from their predecessors².

In the case of the Palermo Qanat, the process of its building is based on the involvement of muqanni. These figures were specialized workers who had the role to find the water sources and make the real hydraulic infrastructure, adapting the engineering project to the conformations of the ground, so that they would exploit the friable rock morphology³.

A thousand years ago the city was one of the most crowded in Europe. However, no one could say short of water, thanks to the Qanat that gathered sources from the foothills of the Conca d’ Oro (the Golden Valley nearby Palermo characterized in the past by an enormous number of lemon trees, from which take the name Golden)4. Specifically, the Qanat carried water to the centre of the city thanks to a minimum slope: wells, indeed, could draw out at depths with ease and a little of energy costs.

According to the geologist Pietro Todaro, one of the most important experts of the Qanat of Palermo, some of them flowed near or under the houses of the nobility.



In this way, thanks to the presence of running water, the noble could enjoy a drop-in temperature during the long-lasting hot summer days5.

This vast network of narrow underground tunnels is located mainly beneath the Calatafimi Street area. In the past, this area hosted an amazing complex of real gardens, bubbling fountains and exotic plants. At that time, they required large amounts of water in order to refresh the plants during Sicilian summers6 (sadly, today all these beautiful outdoor settlements have been lost to be substituted by ill-maintained rough buildings). 

The Qanat Today

Nowadays, the Qanat has obviously lost the ancient functions, but still, this incredible engineering work remains fascinating. Many guided visits, indeed, are periodically organized in the Qanat by national and local organizations or by international institutions in the context of any projects. For instance, indeed, the Fondazione UNESCO Sicilia (UNESCO Sicily Foundation) has organized guided tours of Qanat inside the project #SettembreUNESCO7 (#SeptemberUNESCO). Moreover, national and local associations, passionate about the history of Qanat, tend to propose visits of the Qanat to the citizens of the city of Palermo. 

The schools of Palermo have demonstrated interests in participating in the project since the Qanat is a very well-known ancient waterline of the city of Palermo.

Unfortunately, the Qanat that are downtown of the city of Palermo (where the contacted schools are situated) are not available anymore to visit. However, the schools and the community of the city of Palermo maintain a high interest and curiosity towards this ancient masterpiece. 


Map of the Qanat
(source: Piedro Todaro, Research Gate)

²We are Palermo, “Qanats of Palermo,” We are Palermo, https://wearepalermo.com/news/qanats-palermo/.

³DiscoverItaly Alitalia, “Underground Palermo: what to do in Palermo,” DiscoverItaly Alitalia, https://discoveritaly.alitalia.com/en/us/destinations/palermo/what-to-do-in-palermo-secret-pearls.

4Pizzuto Antinoro, Massimo. Gli Arabi in Sicilia e il modello irriguo della Conca d’Oro Palermo. CIP – Biblioteca centrale della Regione siciliana, 2002

5Pietro Todaro, “Sistemi d’acqua tradizionali siciliani: qanat, ingruttati e pozzi allaccianti nella Piana di Palermo,” Geologia dell’ambiente, n. 4 (2014), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268807059_Sistemi_d’acqua_tradizionali_siciliani_qanat_ingruttati_e_pozzi_allaccianti_nella_Piana_di_Palermo.

6We are Palermo, “Qanats of Palermo,” We are Palermo, https://wearepalermo.com/news/qanats-palermo/.

7Official website of the Municipality of Palermo, “Settembre Unesco per conoscere i siti dell’arabo normanno. Dal 14 al 29 settembre a Palermo,” Official website of the Municipality of Palermo, https://www.comune.palermo.it/noticext.php?cat=1&id=24583.


Inner waterways - Delfshaven

For us, in the Netherlands, water is so many things positive and negative; it means floods and the constant battle for survival, but also ice skating, singing in the rain, sailing, drinking water from the tap and of course water management.

A quarter of the Netherlands lies below Amsterdam Ordnance Datum (average sea level) and about 30% of the Netherlands is sensitive to floods from rivers.  Delfshaven –the area of focus- is around 8m below sea level on average8.

“View of Delfshaven” (source: Atlas van de Schie)

Delfshaven is a part of Rotterdam on the right bank of river Nieuwe Maas.   

The town of Delfshaven grew around the port of the city of Delft. Delft itself was not located on a major river, so in 1389 the duke of Aelbrecht van Beieren decided to give Delft free access to the river Maas by digging a canal, the Delfshavense Schie, and a harbour of about 10 km (6 mi) due south of the city.This settlement was named Delfshaven (“Port of Delft”)9.  The harbour became one of the most important spots for trade, transshipment, herring fishing and shipbuilding.

Halfway the 16th century Delfshaven became a prosperous town with a thousand inhabitants due to the trade of herring and whaling in the harbour. In addition, it was the trading port for spices and Delft blue porcelain at the time of the Dutch East-India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie: VOC). In 1672 a big VOC Sea warehouse was built. By the end of the VOC era, the harbour deteriorated and Delfshaven requested to be annexed by the city of Rotterdam10. The harbour also played an important role for the Pilgrim Fathers, a group of English faith puritans who left their country under pressure from King James I of England and took refuge in and around Leiden in the Netherlands. 

Later in the 18th century, there was a rise in the gin (jenever) industry and some flour mills were built in and around Delfshaven11. The harbour and village got slowly surrounded by many residential neighborhoods from the city of Rotterdam and partly lost its connection to the river.

‘View of Delfshaven’, Joost van Geel, 1666 - 1698 (source: Rijksmuseum)

Both the extension of the Westzeedijk (the most important flood defense for Rotterdam) and the construction of a rail bundle had closed off the old Delfshaven from the Maas exit. In the early 1930s, the old ports definitively lost their function for shipping due to the diversion of the water connection between the Delfshavense Schie and the Maas via the new Coolhaven and Park locks (1926-1931). After the loss of function of the rear port line, with the shift from the port of Rotterdam in the direction of Europoort, the soul of an active port front and shipping activities disappeared forever12. 

Delfshaven survived many battles and wars. During the Second World War, most of Delfshaven managed to remain unaffected, unlike most historical buildings in Rotterdam. After the Second World War the city was ready for a new start. For the ‘Wederopbouw’ (1940-1960) many remaining buildings had to make room for a Modernist city. In the 60’s the Historical Delfshaven was declared a protected cityscape13.

Delfshaven today

Nowadays Delfshaven has more than 75,000 inhabitants spread over eight neighborhoods. The harbour is a well-visited area by tourists in Rotterdam. You can find many antique and trinket shops, cafés and restaurants. During cold winters, when the canals freeze, it may be possible to ice skate in Delfshaven, although due to the climate change we almost never have that cold winters anymore. Many heritage organisations and tours are active in the neighborhood and in 2020 a big festival and many other activities will be organized around the celebration of 400 years of history of the Pelgrimskerk.

The waterline(s) and the schools involved as associates form an interesting system of natural, urban, social and heritage dimensions. The waterline offers a connection to 400 years old history of urban development, while it connects the cluster of the schools to the river Nieuwe Maas. The schools in the broader area are all very different in the educational level, approach and “culture”.


8Krnwtr, ‘Hoogtekaart van Nederland’, https://www.krnwtr.nl/hoogtekaart-van-nederland/

9Stadsarchief Rotterdam, ‘Delfshaven’, https://stadsarchief.rotterdam.nl/apps/stadsarchief.nl/regio/rotterdam/delfshaven/index.xml

10Vers Beton, ‘Benut de historische rijkdom van delfshaven’, https://versbeton.nl/2018/08/benut-de-historische-rijkdom-van-delfshaven/

11Erfgoed Leiden, ‘Schatkamer: Pelgrim Archives’, https://www.erfgoedleiden.nl/schatkamer/380-pilgrim-archives

12Bospolder Tussen Dijken, Rapportage Historisch Delfshaven-Schans Watergeusgebied, http://bospoldertussendijken.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/180409-rapportage-Historisch-Delfshaven-SchansWatergeusgebiedcompressed.pdf