Guest Post : Water and Pompeii 2 of 2 by Caroline Brehaut / by Anthony Gibbins

Once again, it is an absolute pleasure to welcome Caroline Brehaut to Legonium. Caroline is a dear friend and a spectacular historian. She received an Australian Commonwealth Scholarship to study a Master’s Degree at Oxford University and was awarded the University Medal at Macquarie University in her home town of Sydney.

The castellum aquae castle of water, situated at the town’s highest point, near the Vesuvian Gate, was the first collection and distribution centre for the water which reached Pompeii via the aqueduct. The structure has the appearance of a brick built bunker, with three beautiful brick arches. From these pipes which began the distribution of water to the remainder of the town.

Now, the castellum aquae, at Pompeii’s highest point, stands at 42 metres above sea level, and the lowest point of the town at only 6 metres above sea level. Again, what with water’s tendency to flow downhill, it is this height difference that allowed the flow of water from the castellum throughout the rest of the town. BUT, what with water’s tendency to flow downhill at increasing speed, and the immense pressure created as water was siphoned out of the large castellum via much narrower pipes, the problem became that of too much water. Solution? Water towers built throughout the town to help reset water pressure.

Fourteen have been excavated so far, serving a dual purpose: to regulate water pressure, and to provide a distribution point for smaller lead pipes, which in turn led water to the street fountains, the bath buildings, to the private houses of the wealthy, and to workshops. The towers are completely ingenious – they ‘consume’ water pressure by piping the water up the tower, collecting it in a basin at the top, and then drawing it down through a pipe on the tower’s other side, and then onto the next tower.

Forty street fountains, almost all equipped with a spout (plus a small sculpture) and a square or rectangular basin, were supplied from these towers, providing water for the majority of the town's inhabitants. In addition, about a 100 private households (out of about 1,000 dwellings) had a private connection to the public water. Public bath houses also drew water from these towers.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds very clean and hygienic. But note: private dwellings seemed to have primarily used this water for ornamental displays, not for hygiene or cooking. Water displays in private homes, in the form of fountains and lush gardens, became status symbols. The House of the Vettii alone has 14 fountains!!! The streets of Pompeii, meanwhile, would have resembled open sewers at times, and those quaint looking stepping stones across the viae were probably in constant use (not just after heavy rainfall). Whether storm water was washing effluvia into the Sarno, or the streets were simply filthy with garbage and human waste, stepping stones would no doubt have seemed like a great idea.

Thank you, Caroline, for writing Legonium’s first Guest Post. If any readers, or one of your students, would like to write a Guest Post for Legonium, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached on

In ancient times The Pompeians would often go to the baths to wash themselves. We walked around the ruins together.

The Lego model of Pompeii is housed in the Nicholson Museum of The University of Sydney, Australia. Entry to the museum is entirely free, and you may visit Monday to Friday between 10:00 and 4:30. The Nicholson is Australia’s oldest University museum and contains the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The Pompeii model was commissioned by the Nicholson and constructed by LEGO Professional Builder Ryan McNaught. It is the third such model the museum has exhibited, following the Colosseum and Acropolis.  The Colosseum was returned to McNaught and recently exhibited around Australia. The Acropolis was denoted by the Nicholson to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The Pompeii model is estimated to include 190 000 bricks and took 420 hours to complete.