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THESE TIDBITS grew from my watching the Jack Nicholson/Faye Dunaway flick Chinatown and, coincidently, unearthing a photo by Wife Dottie of the Pontcysylite Aqueduct in northeast Wales. That is, the theme is moving water around. Other aqueducts considered here in Parts 1 and 2, today and tomorrow, include the Roman one in Ver-Pont-du-Gard, France, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which brings to mind the Nicholson/Dunaway flick. It turns out I also clarify one of my misconceptions in Part 2.
Water, the Giver of Life. Water often defines where civilization evolves. The Tigris and Euphrates River Valley, much of it in what is now Iraq, was home to the ancient Mesopotamia culture originating around 3500 B.C. Dissecting its name, you get “between waters,” the same two etymological roots as in mezzo soprano and hippopotamus.
Other ancient valley cultures evolved on China’s Yellow River around 4000 B.C., Egypt’s Nile River about 3000 B.C., and India’s Indus River, its earliest history still unknown because the culture’s Harappan writing has yet to be deciphered.
Another valley culture, in southern California’s San Fernando Valley, evolved in the 1980s. Like, see Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl,” 1982. This culture ultimately traces back to the challenge of moving water to where it isn’t, y’know.
Aqueducts. An aqueduct is a human-constructed means of moving water from one place to another: Aqua, Latin for water; “duct,” from Latin’s ducere, to lead.
The Greeks, Egyptians, and Harappans (remember them along the Indus?) moved water to irrigate crops. Around the 7th century B.C., the Assyrians built a limestone aqueduct 50 miles in length to bring water to its capital city, Nineveh. One of its sections was 33-ft. high, stretching across a 984-ft. valley.
The Pont du Gard. In the first century A.D., the Romans built an aqueduct for a similar purpose, to bring mountain spring water from Ucetia, now Uzès, to Nemanusus, now Nimes, both in southern France. Much of this aqueduct was tunneled through uneven terrain, but to cross the Gardon Gorge the Romans constructed a three-tiered series of arches now known as the Pont du Gard.
The Pont du Gard survived the fall of the Roman Empire. It continued enriching local lords and bishops as a toll bridge across the gorge well into the 17th century. Today, it’s a popular French tourist attraction.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The Welsh Pontcysyllte Aqueduct has already made an appearance here at SimanaitisSays. It was built in 1805 for the Llongollen Canal to cross the valley of the River Dee.
Canal boats travel through a trough, 11 ft. wide and 1007 ft. long. The trough, made of flanged cast-iron panels, rides on cast-iron arches supported by 19 piers of brick.
A scientific tidbit from my previous research: Unlike bridges, aqueducts carry a constant vertical load. By virtue of Archimedes’ Principle, the mass of any boat upon it pushes an equal mass of water off the aqueduct.
Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll address whether the movie Chinatown was a gripping documentary of the California Water Wars, or just one helluva good fictional neo-noir mystery. There is a knife-wielding director, however. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019