Italy, September 8, 2008
Everywhere you look, Roman water fountains
Image that you lived in Roman times. When clean, fresh water was a rarity in most cities of the world, cholera was a constant risk and dysentery was the norm. Now image coming to Rome where every city block had a fountain that ran all day and all night, gurgling with clear mountain water drinkable from the tap.
This water wealth was one of the defining characteristics of Rome, a stunning accomplishment before the advent of indoor plumbing or even urban sewers. And when the Goths broke the aqueducts that brought this water from afar, the city crumbled and fell into a thousand year disuse.
Now the aqueducts pour water into the city again, and the water wealth still stuns the visitor unaccustomed to so many public fountains across a city. Again, every block has the sound of running water as fountains new and old moisten the lips of residents.
And while Americans think of water fountains as a metal faucet with a round catch basin, or a square, freestanding box with a fountain on top, there are no such tight rules for a Roman water fountain. Every spout and vessel imaginable is used as a water fountain, including ancient stone caskets.
For Amy and I this water wealth meant that we never had to buy bottled water. In fact, we just reused the same water bottle, refilling it from any fountain we came across. At first we thought ourselves cool for recycling, but then we realized that Romans didn't seem to carry water bottles around with them like Americans do. There are so many water fountains, there is no need to carry water with you!
This is a great juxtaposition with Washington DC, where public water fountains are few and far in between. Even on the National Mall, working water fountains are rare. Back in 2006, I did a water fountain survey on the Mall and found six waterless fountains. Then I was annoyed, but now, after witnessing the water wealth of Rome, I'm saddened.
I hope America can also realize that water wealth is real, and really Roman.