The Carolino Aqueduct: mathematics at the service of beauty

by Federico Quagliuolo

When its arches sprout from afar and little by little you get closer, you feel that clear and strong feeling of pride to be born here, in Italy, and especially in Campania, where you can see it every day. The Carolino Aqueduct it is one of the most beautiful hydraulic engineering works in the world, born of the genius of Luigi Vanvitelli and it was a real one miracle of mathematics: in its 38 kilometers of length, it had to carry water from Monte Taburno to the newly created Royal Palace of Caserta, passing from Airola to the capital of the Terra di Lavoro overcoming hills, mountains and slopes very difficult to deal with at an engineering level.

It was the symbol of the rebirth of the Kingdom of Naples, but also of its fall: in fact it took place right at his feet one of the decisive battles of Garibaldi's campaign. And today, between the monument of Garibaldi's fallen soldiers and its monumental arches, is here to tell us better than anything else a story of splendor and wars.

Carolino Aqueduct from above
The Carolino aqueduct from above

The work that was supposed to amaze the world

It all started from Charles of Bourbon: the King, who chose the best intellectuals of his time to form the new Neapolitan court, he left carte blanche to Luigi Vanvitelli, the little genius son of the painter Gaspare. It was in fact necessary to build a new royal palace and, with the monumental garden and its fountain, it was also necessary to provide running water.
In fact, Carlo's was a marketing operation: to build immense, beautiful and record-breaking works it was a clear message to tell the world that Naples was back among the great cities of Europe and he was able to amaze everyone thanks to the munificence of his king.
If in fact the Royal Palace of Caserta it was literally a record building, still considered today the largest royal palace in the world, the Carolino Aqueduct had to amaze everyone with its monumental bridge which dominates the entire Maddaloni Valley.

Vanvitelli, inspired by the classic models of the ancient Romans, in fact, he decided to design an arched aqueduct that would start from the sources of the Fizzo at the foot of the mountain Taburno, close to Airola, and it would go as far as the Palace. A job very hard, given not only the need for bring the water on a slope for 30 kilometers, but also for the roughness of the ground which made the work very difficult.
Most of the aqueduct flows underground and is interspersed with some visible bridges, such as the Charles III Bridge in Airola, the Durazzano bridge and, obviously, that of the Maddaloni Valley.
The work was designed down to the smallest detail: maintenance tunnels were also present in the underground parts (still viable today).

The expense for its realization was of 705.826 ducats, equivalent to about 10 million euros current, it was not even very high. We will just have to think that for the palace of Caserta was spent 6,133,508, almost 10 times as much. It should also be specified that construction costs at the time were significantly lower than today: such a work today would cost hundreds of millions of euros.

Maddaloni Valley Bridge
The Maddaloni Valley Bridge

The Ponte dell'Acquedotto Carolino, the work of records

The part of the monumental bridge of the Carolino Aqueduct it is the one that undoubtedly still leaves us enchanted today. Three orders of arches resting on 44 pillars, a conduit 529 meters long and 55 meters high, with a difference in height between the entrance and the exit of a few centimeters. It was an unparalleled work of hydraulic engineering and mathematics in the past. The University of Engineering did not yet exist, but Naples already boasted excellent engineers and scientists at the time. Vanvitelli then hired a pool of mathematicians, physicists and architects to be able to design the bridge with the precision that today only a computer would guarantee.
The manpower employed was also specialized and it was formed in such a way as to respect in a scientific way the provisions of the designers: a construction error, even of just a few centimeters, would have been fatal for the success of the entire work. But it all went perfectly. On the contrary, the bridge of the Carolino Aqueduct managed to overcome even three very violent earthquakes: the last one in 1980, the one that razed half Irpinia and half Sannio to the ground.

L & #039; Carolino Aqueduct: mathematics at the service of beauty

Don't name it after Ferdinand!

Charles of Bourbon, in reality, he will never enjoy the Royal Palace of Caserta and the Aqueduct that bears his name, since it was forced to leave his beloved kingdom in the hands of the third son, Ferdinand IV, who was replaced in the regency by Bernardo Tanucci. It was in 1760 when the first bridge was built and Carlo had already gone to live in Madrid. Vanvitelli proposed to name the first bridge after Ferdinand and not after Carlo, to curry favor with the new King, but he met the strong opposition of the prime minister, who remained very loyal to Carlo: it was thus that, after a long dialectical and political battle, the Durazzano bridge remained nameless. The big one, however, was later named after Charles of Bourbon.

Battle of the Volturno Carolino Aqueduct
The Battle of the Volturno, the episode of the conflict near the aqueduct

An aqueduct for everyone

THE benefits brought by the Carolino Aqueduct were extended to the whole province of Caserta and Benevento. In fact, it was not a "private" aqueduct but, just as the Romans did with the more famous Serino, Numerous pipelines were opened which brought running water to strategic points. Let's think for example of San Leucio silk factories, but also for a huge and complex mill system which initially served as an engine for the manufacturing necessary to build the Royal Palace and the Aqueduct itself.

We note at the end at the foot of the aqueduct a small shrine: remember the Battle of the Maddaloni Valley, which is an episode of the wider Volturno conflict between Garibaldi and Neapolitan troops. It was inaugurated in 1899 at the behest of an association of former Garibaldians and it is an interesting position, because in a few meters the moment of greatest splendor of the Bourbon monarchy and its collapse are represented.

Even today, right in the Maddaloni Valley, we can be filled with pride while we admire one of the greatest hydraulic engineering challenges of all time.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Shrine of the Garibaldini
The Garibaldini Shrine

Cesare Cundari, Giovanni Maria Bagord, The Caroline aqueduct, Aracne Editore, Rome, 2012

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