Segovia Aqueduct

This is the single most important Roman artefact in Spain, and is the symbol of Segovia. Many things in this world lay dubious claim to being awesome, but this one really is.

In the Middle Ages it was supposed to have been built by Hercules, with the Devil as its architect, and you can see why medieval men, even with their cathedrals, would have been in awe of this tribute to Roman engineering prowess.

According to the tale, Juanella was a water-seller in the city who became so knackered with all the heavy work that one day she said, “I would sell my soul to the Devil if he would make the water reach my house.”

Satan was listening in of course, and took up the challenge. She told him that he could have her soul only if the water got to her house before the cock crowed, and then realising her grave sin she ran back to her house and locked herself in.

There were strange noises all night as she continued to pray. Finally, the cock crowed when only one more stone needed to be put in place to complete the Devil’s work. Her prayers had saved her by bringing daybreak earlier than usual, and the townsfolk themselves lay the last stone of the Puento Seco, or Dry Bridge as it was known.

Actually, the Emperor Trajan was responsible for it, or possibly Nerva, in the second half of the 1st century AD. It’s the ultimate dry stone wall, as it was dry-built from blocks of ashlar without the use of mortar. Hooks were used to hoist the blocks up, and the sheer weight of stone made the hooks close up into pre-prepared slots that you can still see today.

In 1974 there were celebrations to mark the aqueduct’s two thousandth birthday. The Moorish king of Toledo tried to smash it up in 1072 but the damage was later put right by the Catholic monarchs, who added 36 Gothic arches in the first section.

What most interested me, however, was that because the hills rise steeply on each side of the town centre you can climb onto the top of the aqueduct easily at two unprotected points. If it was in England they’d have endless trouble with yobs getting literally smashed on Friday and Saturday nights when they tried to walk across it. Another reason in a growing list of why I regard Spain as so much more civilised than us.

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