Empúries, in today’s Girona Spain, was the location of a Greek colony from the 6th century BCE, later taken over by the Romans. The water supply to the settlement could have been served by the nearby rivers Fluvià and Ter. However the rivers passed through a salt marsh on their way to the sea so was not very useful except for their metallurgy.
The site’s original attraction was that it was founded on karst, a landscape where soluble rocks (dolomite, gypsum and limestone) have been worn away to create caves, sinkholes, aquifers and other natural features. It appears that many Greek colonies appear to have deliberately sought out such karst areas.
The community built only nine wells and it is conjectured that the Montgri aquifer did not supply good water, it was prone to intrusion by the sea. The most notable wells were located in its agora and the Asklepieion temple. Empúries also boasted a number of fountains, both natural and man-made. There was also a small public bath facility.
Cisterns were therefore vital here. They were used for personal and public water storage below ground, covered to avoid the losses to evaporation that an open pool experiences. Size determines whether a water storage facility is a cistern or a reservoir, Empúries had only cisterns.
The earliest 4th century BCE Greek cisterns were bottle shaped but here in Spain they were the 3rd/2nd century BCE elliptical versions with flat lids and built from sandstone (rock grains like quartz or feldspar). Whereas the later Roman cisterns used calcareous stone (calcium carbonate) and were rectangular or elliptical with vaulted lids.
The Romans distributed the available water resources by creating underground aqueducts and stone-built ducting, they also used both pottery and lead piping in their community here. Their major houses used piping from their roof to collect rain water into an impluvium at the centre of the atrium and was led to a cistern with any overflow led away by ducts.
Not all Roman aqueducts were used for personal and agricultural water supply, in Las Médulas, Spain, they were used for an industrial application. In 74 CE Pliny the Elder described how aqueducts and tanks were built to enable a form of hydraulic mining, called hushing, flash-flooded the veins in the rocks to reveal valuable seams, water riffle tables then revealed gold particles. Pliny stated production was 20,000 Roman pounds per year, 5,000,000 Roman pounds (1.6m kilos) from 250 years of exploitation – they used some 60,000 workers who were freemen, not slaves. Similar processes were used at Dolaucothi gold mines in South Wales. All mineral resources in the Empire were the property of the Roman Emperor, as part of his patrimonium.
At one site, Montefurado in Galicia, the Romans appear to have built a dam across the river Sil to expose alluvial gold deposits in the bed of the river. The site is near the spectacular Roman gold mine of Las Medulas.
When the Visigoths arrived in the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century they destroyed the Roman bath-houses declaring the practice as unmanly and enfeebling. When the Moors took over in the 8th century the dislike of bathing on the part of the locals saw the Moors bathing habits as somehow heretical and other, thus reassuring their belief that uncleanliness was the Christian thing to do. Bathing was lumped in with rich food, wine and sex as something to be avoided if you wished to assert you purity and faith.
So as Moorish Spain built fountains, pools and bath-houses they were promoted by mendicant monks as the work of alien and ungodly invaders and by Spanish leaders as a symbol to keep the Reconquista alive and well in the hearts and minds of the locals. The monks themselves relished their olor de santidad, odour of sanctity; the foul smell asserting their godliness.
In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella, aka the CatholicMonarchs, finally prevailed and liberated Granada from the Moors. Their advisor, Franciscan monk, Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros, had them destroy the Moorish bath-houses and forbid both Christians and Moors to bathe in anything other than holy water. The Spanish Inquisition took this very seriously in their tribunals.
Notably Queen Isabel stated that she had taken a bath just twice in her lifetime – at her birth and when she got married!