The Aqueduct Of Segovia
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The great marvel of Segovia, the achievement associated from time immemorial with the city, and blazoned in its municipal arms as its cognizance, is the aqueduct. This "bridge," as it is called, consists of a long double line of arches thrown across the ravines of the valley of the Eresma, and forming, as it were, a triumphal arch and gate of the city, as the traveler drives under it at the end of his journey from La Granja. It is called a Roman building, and attributed to Trajan, the emperor whom the Spaniards claim as their countrymen; but it bears no inscription and apparently never bore any. Nor does any record or hint occur in ancient writers that can furnish a clue to the date of the building or the name of the builder.
To doubt that the aqueduct is a Roman work would be little less than heresy; yet there are some native critics who timidly, and, as it were, with bated breath, venture to suggest that at least its original design and construction may have been anterior to the Roman domination of the interior of Spain, and that it may be claimed as the achievement of those Celtiberian or other indigenous races who, like the Ligurians and Etruscans, and other older native Italian tribes, knew something about architecture before the Romans, and gave their masters some useful hints in that art in which they became so eminently proficient. This opinion might be grounded on the fact that the Segovian aqueduct is constructed of large blocks of stone laid upon one another, cyclopean fashion, without cement or mortar, in the style of which specimens re-main in the walls of Tarragona, the huge stones in many instances underlying the layers of imperial Roman brick masonry.
So striking is this masterly adaptation, this perfect adequacy of the means to the end; so flimsy, fragile, and gossamer-like are the lines of this marvelous arcade, that superstition as-signs to it a supernatural origin, the legend being that it was constructed in one night by the devil, enamored of a Segovian damsel, whom he wished to save the trouble of carrying her pitcher up and down the steep banks to fetch water across the valley.
The water of the Segovian aqueduct springs in the Fuenfria and runs through the Rio Frio (cold-fountain and cold river) ; a pure water flowing from the Guadarrama mountains over a distance of ten or twelve miles; and the aqueduct was made to go through several bends and turnings to check the impetuosity of the stream. It runs 216 feet to the first angle, 462 feet to the second, and 937 to the third, where it be-comes a bridge, spanning the valley from bank to bank, and resting at the end on the rock, on which stands what is left of the battlemented walls of the city. The total length of the aqueduct is thus 1,615 feet, and consists of 320 arches, which begin single and low, but rise gradually as the ground sinks, to maintain the level, and become double, one tier over another, as they vault over the gap of the valley, over the stream and the highway, all along the range that faces the traveler, as he approaches to and passes under it, entering the town.
The three central arches are the loftiest, and rise to a height of 102 feet. These, on the nether tier, are surmounted by three blocks of stone somewhat in the shape of steps, intended as a cornice to mark the locality of the town-gate, and over the steps, in one of the pillars of the upper tier, are scooped two niches, with a statue of the Virgin in the niche looking to the town, and in the other at the back a nondescript figure that priests call St. Sebastian, but in which the Segovians fancy they behold the effigy of the Satanic architect of the bridge.
No words and no picture could convey the impression wrought upon the traveler by the sight of this magic building. The whole structure is of granite, light gray, as found in the quarry, but turned by age to a light pearl and purple tint, glowing like jasper in the deep blue of this semi-Alpine Castilian sky. The blocks of stone, on a near inspection, seem to have been laid upon one another clumsily and, as it were, at hap-hazard, some of them daringly jetting out and hanging over as to suggest the apprehension that the whole fabric may at any time collapse and slip down to the ground like a castle of cards. Yet the bridge has been standing, perhaps, 2,000 years, and looks intact; and the design, seen at a proper distance, is a model of ease and elegance, relying, one would say, on mere symmetry and balance for solidity.
The stones, rudely cut in large, long, square blocks, bear the holes of the iron clamps by which they were hoisted up to their places; they are worn smooth and almost round by time and storms, but are sound at the core; and at the base of the pillars, as well as at various stages up the shafts and at the turning of the arches, there are cornices of what seems to have been black marble, but now everywhere chipped and cracked and almost altogether fretted away.
The aqueduct is the only thing really living in poor dead Segovia. The necessity of securing a constant supply of better water than what flows between the ravines of the Eresma compelled the construction of this work when the place was a mighty city, and insured its preservation as the town sank year by year to its present forlorn and dilapidated condition.