What's the difference between an aqueduct and a viaduct?

22nd August 2022

Aqueducts are structures that carry water and viaducts are structures that carry road or railway traffic.

What is an aqueduct?

Aqueducts are structures that carry a large quantity of flowing water across a valley or a hollow. They are artificial channels typically in the form of a bridge, often found on canals. It uses gravity to keep water moving from its source to its main distribution point.

What is a viaduct?

Viaducts are a bridge-like structures that are typically made up of arches that carry road or rail traffic across a valley or other low ground. The difference between these two is that an aqueduct is a bridge for water and a viaduct is a bridge for road or railway.

History of the aqueduct 

History disputes when the first aqueduct was invented. Some sources date the first aqueduct to 312BC in Rome, Italy - named the Aqua Appia. Though some say the canal system existed in the 9th Century, BCE, Assyrian Empire. During the Roman period, aqueducts were used to keep citizens healthy by carrying away used water and waste.


History of the viaduct

Derived from the Latin word ‘via’ meaning road, its functionality relates to aqueducts though it carries road and rail instead. The first viaduct was invented in the 18th century, similar to the constructs of Roman aqueducts, it is also made up of a series of arches.


Can you navigate a narrowboat over an aqueduct?

Yes you can. There are many narrowboat canal routes that flow over an aqueduct. These astonishing sights of engineering are a great reason to travel along some of the routes to visit them:

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Voted as number 1 on our 7 wonders of the waterway, the Pontcysllte aqueduct is renowned for being the longest and highest in Britain. Known as the ‘stream in the sky’, it was built between 1795 and 1806 and is deemed a World Heritage site. A 300-metre long trough is supported by 18 stone piers and at 100 feet long and standing 125 feet – this monument is one not to be missed. Situated 38 metres above the River Dee in Llangollen canal, our Llangollen & Return featured routes showcases the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the idyllic Welsh countryside.

If you are looking for more information on our midweek breaks in Wales, or if you are looking to explore more of our Wales canal boat holiday locations, you can get in touch with a member of our friendly team today.

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