An aerial view of the aqueduct.

An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery: The Living, Growing Aqueduct of Alicún de las Torres, Granada

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Not far from the Moorish splendors of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, and close to the troglodyte cave-dwellings of the residents of Guadix, is the spectacular, living, El Toril Aqueduct. It is located across the road from the popular rural Hotel Balneario (Spa) de Alicún de las Torres, which utilizes the same warm medicinal waters carried by the aqueduct for its healing baths, treatments, and outdoor pools.

View over the gorge of Río Alhama.

View over the gorge of Río Alhama. (Tango7174/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

This living, growing aqueduct is a unique water conduit, approximately 15 meters (49 feet) tall at its highest point, over three meters (10 feet) thick at its widest, and nearly a kilometer-and-a-half (0.85 mile) long. Its imposing walls are covered in exuberant vegetation—grasses and ferns, roots and vines—that make the aqueduct look like a veritable hanging garden.

How could such an amazing formation come to be? Juan Sáez, a specialist in geomancy and earth mysteries, has researched the site extensively. He explains that the design and layout of the aqueduct are human, but the construction itself depends on nature. A simple sinuous furrow, scratched into the earth with a tool, or perhaps with a hand or foot, was the starting point for the creation of the aqueduct. This unpretentious furrow formed the channel through which mineral water from the nearby thermal springs began to flow. The wavy shape provided stability, resiliency, and helped to slow the rush of water.

The Spring Waters Sustain Life

The spring water comes out of the ground at 34.5°C (94°F) and is laden with calcium sulphate and magnesium bicarbonate. Over the years, the generations, the centuries—the millennia—the precipitation and sedimentation of mineral salts gradually caused the curving channel to solidify around the edges and very, very slowly to rise in height. Seeping and overflowing water helped it to expand in width. This created El Toril Aqueduct: an immense travertine wall that continues to grow.

Perhaps 20-25 percent of the water that enters the aqueduct filters through the mineral walls and makes the vertical garden possible. An assortment of specially adapted vegetation thrives on the damp, drippy sides, and when they die, they “calcify” and thicken the accretions on the walls. The endemic plant Limonium Alicunense is only found on the aqueduct; it has mutated over untold hundreds of years and requires the salinity of the mineral water to survive.

Photo of a related Limonium plant which thrives in saline conditions, Limonium perezii at the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

Photo of a related Limonium plant which thrives in saline conditions, Limonium perezii at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. (Stan Shebs/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The channel carrying water along the top of El Toril is 40 cm (16 inches) wide and approximately 15 cms (six inches) in depth. Balneario employees have the ongoing task of clearing the channel of mineral deposits and vegetation so that the water continues to flow along the aqueduct. The channel is broken about 0.5 km (1/3 mile) from the end, and at that point the water cascades down the side, creating a beautiful waterfall.

Beautiful waterfall at the channel carrying water along the top of El Toril (Photo © Balneario of Alicún de las Torres)

Beautiful waterfall at the channel carrying water along the top of El Toril (Photo © Balneario of Alicún de las Torres)

Humans and Nature, The Living and the Dead, Working Together Harmoniously

The still-living, still-growing El Toril Aqueduct is unique, but it is not the only aqueduct in the area. The lifeless remains of four other human-assisted/nature-grown aqueducts are found in the immediate vicinity of the Balneario Spa. These four ceased to function long ago and are crumbling back into the earth from which they came. Perhaps an immense deluge of water broke through the channels, or they were destroyed through negligence or lack of maintenance. Whatever the reason, given ancient technological constraints, it would have been easier to start another aqueduct by digging a track in the soil than to repair a broken one.

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Elyn Aviva, Ph.D., M.Div., is an independent researcher specializing in sacred sites, powerful places, comparative religion, and pilgrimage. She is author of numerous articles and over a dozen books, including Following the Milky Way now in its second edition, which explores the meaning of pilgrimage in detail, and delves deeply into the esoteric symbols and pre-Christian shrines that lie hidden within the Way. | See more at PilgrimsProcess.com and PowerfulPlaces.com

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