The water cathedral


The very first building I noticed, when first researching Livorno, was this quirky place. Without it, I may never have ended up visiting and getting to know this city at all. So, I owe it a lot!

The Cisternone.



By the time of my first visit, I couldn’t dream of what would happen during trip number three. I was granted access to the interior of the Cisternone, which is the greatest of the three water cisterns that were built in the mid 1800’s for Livorno’s fresh water.

And now I’d like to show you what it looks like inside.



As we enter, a half dome arches high above our heads. It mirrors the one on the roof in a very classical, Palladio style. Basically, it’s half a Pantheon. There is electric light here, but not as we get further inside the building.



Beneath the stunning ceiling we see (apart from my tripod) a water meter, a small but once important part of the complex, no longer in use.



Now we enter the holy of holies, in almost complete darkness. Our eyes take a while to adjust. I fumble with my gear, terrified of dropping anything into the pool. (Which would have caused a minor catastrophe since they would have had to empty the whole basin and refill it. The citizens of Livorno would not be happy.)




It is hard to describe the atmosphere in there. I just know that my photos cannot do it justice at all. It was one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen, I was awestruck and overwhelmed and tears welled up in my eyes. The water company people who accompanied me seemed to have the same feeling of reverence although they must have been there many times.



The stillness of the surface, the reflections from the windows and the dramatic play with light and darkness, the sun hiding behind clouds and suddenly hitting the windows and colouring the water deep turquoise…

And the acoustics! We wispered and the sound just kept on bouncing between the pillars…



A cathedral dedicated to water. The dark marks show the high water level in the morning. It sinks during the day as people use the water, and then fills up again during the night.



When school classes visit (and the public, once a year), people stand behind a glass wall so that nothing, or nobody, can fall into the water. I was allowed to go all the way around the huge pool in order to get good photos. There is a narrow and uneven stone brink with a low railing. You can’t see where you put your feet. The only light is that coming from a few crescent windows. These photos have an exposure time of four seconds, so that might give you an idea of how little light there actually is.



I will always be grateful to the kind people of ASA Spa who gave me this opportunity, especially Signor Marino Veronesi. This day truly was a memory for life.

Next blog post on the Cisternone we’ll go up to the attic, and on the roof even. So, more to come from this wondrous place!



6 comments on “The water cathedral

  1. bastuba says:

    Absolutely wonderful!

  2. imponerad och badnödig says:

    Oh! Vilket gudomligt badhus det skulle kunnat vara.
    Tänk att kunna kosta på en färskvattenreservoar så.

    Mocklis som fått se det i verkliga livet!

    (Frågor: Den lilla vattenmätaren på fjärde bilden, när användes den? Och är taket öppet så man kan se halvkupolen även inifrån, eller?)

    • CS says:

      Ja, jag är verkligen lyckligt lottad! Mätaren visade vattennivån i reservoaren innanför, men jag vet inte hur länge den användes. Nej, taken är helt separerade från varandra, men de är väldigt lika! I nästa inlägg härifrån blir konstruktionen förhoppningsvis lite tydligare 🙂

  3. K says:

    Vatten var ju heligt för de gamla kelterna. Passande att bygga så vackert för det viktigaste vi har.

    • CS says:

      Javisst. Utan vatten går det liksom inte. Och Livorno som alltid haft svårt med sitt vatten. Malariaträsk, sumpmarker, färskvattenbrist. Både det här templet och Acque della Salute måtte betytt en hel del, tänker jag.

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