Italy – style, design and a Roman aqueduct!

The Italians are effortlessly stylish. Even toasters and kettles take on a new life when designed by Italians…

Rinascente, Department Store, Via Tritone, Roma 

In the heart of Rome, on Via Tritone, is the newly remodelled Rinascente Department Store. It is the ultimate retail emporium. A polished, sparkling, brilliantly-lit mecca for the fashion industry. Clothing, fabrics, homeware, all displayed in an exquisitely artful fashion. It’s the sort of place that you enter with a feeling of trepidation, thinking, I’m not smart enough, my hair is a mess, my make up isn’t perfect, or more practically, how much does this stuff cost?

My eye was immediately drawn to a colourful collection of kitchen appliances, ovens, kettles, toasters and blenders. They were very smartly decorated with a red, green and blue pattern. On closer inspection I realised that these items were, according to the information board, unique, limited edition, kitchen items. Presumably for the household that has everything. The result of a collaboration between SMEG (domestic appliances) and the exuberant Dolce and Gabbana fashion designers. D&G love to evoke their native Sicily in their designs, usually they create beautiful gowns and dresses, that sell for thousands. They’ve now applied their talent to these truly good-looking toasters and kettles. I couldn’t see any prices, I did have a good look. But there was nothing as vulgar as a price tag in sight. Later the same day, out of curiosity I went on line and discovered that a very small number of these designer kitchen items were available, or will be available soon in the United States, prices in the region of $600 per item! Now I personally wouldn’t spend $600 on a kettle, mine cost about $20 but I have to say the SMEG and D&G ones are very beautiful. And really if a designer kettle or toaster is your thing then why not!

SMEG - D&G super stylish kitchen equipment -

However I wasn’t wandering around Rinascente to do any shopping I was here for a completely different reason. In the basement of this cathedral to fashion there’s something very special to see. Something very special indeed. On the lowest floor of the store, below ground level, the rear wall of the building is made up of rough stone work, old red bricks, white marble and elegant arches. This wall is actually part of an ancient Roman aqueduct, known as the Aqua Virgo built on the orders of Marcus Agrippa in 19 BC. It was built to supply water to the Baths of Agrippa and the Campo di Marzio area of Rome. This aqueduct has been delivering water into the centre of Rome for more than 2000 years. In the heady days of the Roman Empire the city of Rome had a huge population of around one million inhabitants. To enable the city to expand to this vast size, a reliable water supply was essential. Various aqueducts were built to bring water from the hills surrounding Rome into the centre of the city. The quality of the water was graded, only the purest and cleanest was used for drinking. The excellence of Roman construction methods means that some of these aqueducts still exist today. So just to allow this bizarre situation to sink in, two millenia later, a large stretch of the Roman aqueduct has been revealed in the basement of a super chic department store. I actually have to pinch myself to make myself realise that what I’m seeing is the real thing. At least 50 metres, maybe more of arches and white marble stones, which made up the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. 

So here I am today, somewhat improbably, in the basement of a department store, looking at a series of arches that support an aqueduct that has been carrying water into the heart of Rome for more than 2000 years. During recent renovations at the store the full extent of the aqueduct was revealed. The Roman wall and it’s aqueduct have been cleaned and left exposed for all to see. There is a state of the art light display that shows how the aqueduct was built and explains how it worked. In true Italian style there’s now a rather smart little coffee bar in the basement and a space for fashion shows and exhibitions. So one can sip a perfect cappucino or espresso whilst admiring the engineering feat of a true Roman aqueduct.

Round the corner from Rinascente is Largo Nazareno, a narrow cobbled street. If I was to look down to my left whilst walking down this street I’d see, about ten feet below ground level a brick wall and the same white marble stones, it’s another part of the Aqua Virgo, still there after all these centuries. From the 16th century onwards it became known as the Acqua Vergine. Although it’s the same aqueduct and water supply. However a visitor is confronted with a metal fence and a padlocked gate, so it’s not easy to see.  I find it slightly ironic that the best viewing spot now is the basement of the Rinascente Department Store.

Only in Italy can you sip an espresso, admire a Roman aqueduct and marvel at the most stylish toasters in Europe, whilst remaining in the same building! Viva Roma! Viva Italia! Ecco perche mi piace molto e per sempre L’Italia!!

Magnificent view of the Aqua Virgo, which runs under Rinascente Department Store, Via del Tritone, Roma
A huge section of the Roman Aqueduct, Aqua Virgo runs under the Rinascente Department Store, Rome

This is the view we had to content ourselves with – before the Rinascente renovations:

Aqueduct could be glimpsed through large metal railings.


In a fascinating development it turns out that stylish fashion duet Dolce & Gabbana have not confined themselves to toasters. You can also acquire, for a price, cooking ranges and enormous fridges all painstakingly decorated by hand, by a team of artists. I have to  confess, they are pretty handsome! They evoke the bold, bright light of the Sicilian summer.


  • Visit our sister site for unique journeys in Italy. Small groups, individuals and families – every journey created exclusively for each individual guest.

  • Written when I was in Rome creating walking tours for Oxford University Alumni
  • First published: March 2018 / Updated: 10 May 2021

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