Caños de Carmona, Seville’s Unusual Traffic Island

A surviving section of the ancient Roman aqueduct

photography by: Omri Westmark

What might seem at first like a decorated traffic island in the middle of Seville’s downtown is in fact a vestige of the city’s Roman and Islamic past. Though not much is left of Caños de Carmona nowadays, it still bears the fame of formerly being the region’s main source of drinking water. The three sections that managed to dodge demolition are now lying unassumingly along a busy road.

Attracting over 2 million tourists annually, Seville is awash with many historic relics that reflect its rich and diverse cultural legacy. Interestingly, this sheer abundance of monuments means that sometimes, one can come across pieces of history in the least expected places.

 

Nestled in the middle of the busy Calle Luis Montoto, Caños de Carmona (translated as the Pipes of Carmona) are the remnants of a Roman-era aqueduct. Due to their location in the middle of a hectic road, the former aqueduct is treated as a traffic island rather than a worthy tourist attraction.

 

Dating back to somewhere between 68 to 65 BC, Caños de Carmona was originally built during the tenure of Julius Caesar as the quaestor of Hispania Ulterior, the Roman province that encompasses today’s Seville. Following the fall of the empire, the aqueduct was left in ruins for several centuries. It wasn’t until the late 12th century, during the Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula, when the dilapidated aqueduct was reborn after being renovated by the then Almohad caliph, Abu Yaqub Yusuf.

 

During its heyday, the aqueduct transported more than 5,000 cubic meters of drinking water across 17.5 kilometres, all the way from Santa Lucía spring in the town of Alcalá de Guadaíra to Puerta de Carmona, Seville’s former citygate, from where the ancient structure derives its name. Unlike the 21st century, where water is a basic commodity, in Medieval Iberia, only the aristocracy along with some religious institutions, royal palaces and public baths enjoyed an incessant supply of this precious liquid.

 

It might come as a surprise, but Caños de Carmona provided the city with water until 1912, when it was demolished amid continuous grievances of local residents, complaining about its use as a haven for lawbreakers and homeless people. Nonetheless, three sections, astride five arches each, were spared the same fate after a fervent supporter of their preservation in the provincial government intervened.

 

Fashioned from millions of bricks, the original structure featured 400 arches, of which merely 20 have survived to date. While two of the aqueduct’s segments lie between the traffic lanes of Calle Luis Montoto, the third part is incorporated into the sidewalk of Calle Cigüeña.

 

The westernmost segment has a niche featuring a depiction of Virgin Mary. Known as the Virgin of las Madejas, the original image was transferred into the close-by Church of San Roque, where it was set ablaze during the Spanish Civil War. In 1993, an exact copy, created by a local artist, was placed at the same niche, where it still greets passersby and drivers who are oblivious of its tumultuous past.

The westernmost segment, in the middle of Calle Luis Montoto

photography by: Omri Westmark


The well-preserved section spans across 5 arches

photography by: Omri Westmark


One of the aqueduct’s arches. Originally there were 400.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The niche containing the “Virgin of las Madejas” image

photography by: Omri Westmark


Due its unusual location at the middle of a busy road, it doesn’t attract many visitors

photography by: Omri Westmark


Most of the ancient remnants date back to Spain’s Islamic era as the Roman aqueduct was rebuilt by the Almohad caliphate during the 12th century

photography by: Omri Westmark


The extant double-arch segment is also located in Calle Luis Montoto, a bit eastward

photography by: Omri Westmark


It managed to escape demolition after the land on which it sits became privately owned

photography by: Lobillo/ Wikimedia Commons


The third surviving part, nestled on Calle Cigüeña’s pavement

photography by: Lobillo/ Wikimedia Commons