Aqueduct - Nymphaea

The Roman Aqueduct

Aqueduct and Nymphaea

The existence of an Aqueduct at Nicopolis is indicative of the size and the importance of the city during the Early Imperial Period (1st-2nd c. AD).  It runs accross a distance of more than 50 km. from the springs of Agios Georgios to the Nymphaeum complex. The Aqueduct was necessary to cover everyday needs, to operate the public baths and other infrastructures.

The term “nymphaeum” originally indicated the sacred place where the Nymphs were worshipped. Later, the term was used for buildings connected with water, without these being dedicated to the Nymphs. In the imperial period, nymphaea were very widespread in both Rome and the provinces. Normally built at heavily-frequented pointed in cities, they were dedicated to the gods and comprised a gift from the emperor or members of the local elite, which was seeking prestige and recognition. The constant flow of abundant water ensured by their connection to the Aqueduct brought images with running water from the countryside to the urban environment. One of the famous nymphaea in the Greek region is that of Olympia, known as the Nymphaeum or Exedra of Herodes Atticus. It was built in 160 AD as a gift to Zeus from Herodes’s wife Regilla.

The Nymphaea at the West Gate

Just a few meters east of the West Gate and on either side of the decumanus maximus are two identical Nymphaea. These were public fountains, elaborately decorated, which were fed by water from the Aqueduct.

The nymphaea of Nicopolis have a Π-shaped ground plan. They were built of brick and were two-storied. On their façade, a low wall (of which only ruins at the ends of the side walls are preserved) joined the sides of the Π, forming a rectangular water reservoir. On their inner wall surfaces and at a height of 1.85 meters above the floor of the reservoirs, a total of nine niches, alternately rectangular and semicircular, opened. In each niche, two successive rectangular apertures are preserved, to which the faucets through which drinking water ran into the reservoir were attached. The water reached the faucets through pipes mounted around the outer perimeter of the walls. The water that overflowed the reservoir of the North Nymphaeum was channeled into an open stone channel, part of which survives in situ.

The interior walls and facades had polychrome marble revetments. In the exterior niches and those on the upper floor there would have been statues of the imperial family, their founders, and deities.

Behind the façade of each nymphaeum was a reservoir where water was collected before it was carried to the network of lead pipes. The reservoir, whose interior was also covered in hydraulic mortar, has a floor sloping towards the center with a funnel-shaped opening, through which the water was channeled further down to the pipes. The flow of water towards the reservoirs was regulated with sluices, which rose and fell inside grooves in the walls of the conduit. The latter are still preserved.

While the South and North Nympaea are identical as regards their architectural form, their asymmetrical placement opposite one another and some differences in their masonry led to a dating for the South Nymphaeum to the first half of the 2nd century AD, and of the North to the early 3rd century AD. However, due to a lack of adequate excavation data, since the excavations carried out in the 1970s were brief, the chronological relationship between the two Nymphaea remains an open question.

Virtual reconstruction ot the Nympaea at the West Gate

The small Nymphaeum

The public fountain building is on the west side of the paved street (cardo) which ran along the west side of the House of the ekdikos Georgios. This was a brick structure of rectangular ground plan with four vaulted rooms in a row; the first of these had a rectangular floor plan and the other three, semicircular. The first room had an entrance whose stone threshold survives, while the other three were closed below by a wall. The niche in the second room was decorated with a mosaic scene of a semi-nude Nereid reclining on a sea monster.

As the channels and holes surviving on the walls demonstrate, there was a water supply network complete with lead pipes in all three niches. The face of the arch of the second niche, had a mosaic scene of two Nikes heraldically positioned. In the space between the two Nikes and at a lower level, part of an earlier mosaic remains preserved. Two semicircular bands of alternately white and red diagonal lines form a frame in which the inscription AKTIA may be made out in black letters on a red background.

Above the vaulted rooms were built reservoirs from which the water was channeled into lead pipes, after which it fell into three small pools. From the pools, the water flowed (probably through spouts) into a small stone channel at street level.

It is not known when the fountain house ceased to function. It was subject to numerous interventions like the sealing up of the openings in two low niches and the covering of the Nereid mosaic with mortar on which red crosses had been drawn.  The Nymphaeum is dated to the 2nd century AD when the construction of the Aqueduct which ensured the Nymphaeum was supplied with water had been completed.

The small Nymphaeum near the domus of the ekdikos Georgios
Mosaic wall decoration with Nikai and the inscription AKTIA


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