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Fermo, Roman Cisterns

In a quarter of extraordinary beauty winds Via degli Aceti, in which townhouses with a solemn look alternate with artisans' workshops that continue to perpetuate a thousand-year tradition. Walking along this street, we come to the late-mediaeval entrance to the great Roman cisterns which are considered an authentic masterpiece of hydraulic art of the Augustan age, and an ingenious idea of Vitruvius. Almost certainly it was decided to build what are commonly called purification or decantation pools to respond to a need for water which could not otherwise be met. The underground system for gathering and channelling rain water, similar to the water supply plant in Chieti, enabled it to be redistributed efficiently to the different parts of the city. For storage and subsequent distribution three tanks were built, located on the Girfalco, in what is now Largo Temistocle Calzecchi Onesti, and in Via degli Aceti, and these were obviously at different heights. The first is currently not visitable because it is completely buried, but the excavation of 1927 found four non-communicating rooms in brick, with barrel vaults, very similar to the great cisterns. The second has been named the small cisterns, because its capacity is less than that of the tank located in Via degli Aceti, which however from a structural point of view is not much different from the smaller one. The great cisterns extend over quite a vast area lying beneath Via Paccarone, Via di Vicolo Chiuso, Via degli Aceti and Largo Maranesi, and have a maximum capacity of about 15,000 m3. The interior consists of thirty chambers divided into three rows, each of which has walls lined with opus signinum or beaten pottery which, as Vitruvius wrote, was used above all in building cisterns, aqueducts and spa pools because it was good for waterproofing lime mortar. A visit to the cisterns is incredibly exciting, as they are in a perfect state of conservation and manage to transmit vividly the magnificence of a project which was so efficient that some chambers were used up to the 1980’s. It is very evocative to encounter crude scrawls such as “Calm, way out”, dating from the Second World War, when the chambers were used as a bomb shelter.