Re-Use Roman Ruin, Piscina Mirabilis

Piscina Mirabilis – Bacoli (Naples)


Piscina Mirabilis is a Roman reservoir built by Emperor Augustus in the 1st century AD, in order to feed with drinking water the headquarter of his western Mediterranean war fleet. It was dug out a tuff hill, and it is based on a regular grid of pillars and arcs, with vaulted ceilings.

Participants of this competitions are asked to reuse this space as a Contemporary Art Museum.



This design proposal for the roman cistern reimagines and re-evaluates the ancient space, creating a new entity of knowledge, beauty, and art, ready to pour out a new lifeblood into the surrounding area. Replacing the ancient waters, will be a flow of ideas, thoughts, creative processes expressed by contemporary artists. The artists will have the opportunity, then, to both exhibit their artworks and nourish that human spirit.

The design concept is to organize an exhibition space in the cistern and, at the same time, to overflow the contents outside. The roof covering becomes a public square that is a filter between the outside world and the internal museum.



The spaces between the buttresses on the northeast road will be reserved corners of the public garden for reading and conversation, etc. Inside, the visitors will find the fascinating history of the Piscina Mirabilis. A new staircase at the north corner will lead to the square level. Here there will be a new structure accommodating a bar, a conference space and the main entrance to the cistern with a double escalator. The southern part of the square will be organized with the alternation of monolithic blocks used for the placement of artworks, seats, and various shrubs. The current holes in the cistern roof will be maintained to provide natural lighting inside and will be closed by special tempered glass containing a water chamber. This system creates the optical illusion that, from the square level looking down, will give the feeling of the interior of the museum submerged in water. The result will be an illusion as proposed by the Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich’s masterpiece, Swimming Pool, in which visitors, observed from above, seem to be able to walk in peace under meters and meters of water.

The whole square, the new building, and its different spaces (conference room and bar) will live independently of museum activities. In fact, public space is a scenic point towards Lake Miseno and daily it will receive people. To facilitate this use, the ancient Roman cistern will be connected by pedestrian paths in a south-west direction to the public gardens on the lakefront. The conference room and the bar have the dual role of spaces both open to the public and services of the museum when it is open.



Entering the museum, the escalator will lead down to a newly built intermediate floor. Reception areas – ticket office, cloakroom, and restrooms – will be placed on this floor. A suspended walkway on this level will cross the cistern in its entire length and will lead visitors to the beginning of the exhibition. Through the existing south-east staircase, the visitors will descend to the second lower floor. Almost of this level will be dedicated to the exhibition, except the storage spaces, the restrooms, and an office for the administration. The exhibition will be interwoven between the roman pillars and will be marked by modular dividers in wood and glass. These temporary walls will be moved according to the needs of the exhibited works to have spaces dedicated to different themes. The North-West existing staircase will bring visitors back to the middle floor and the bookshop through which visitors will return to the entrance and exit area.



Combining the experience of discovering this amazing ancient architecture (enhanced by modern intervention) in concert with contemporary art, the human spirit will be nourished as in antiquity time when this sacred place – the Campi Flegrei – was believed Pluto’s door, as suggested in these four latin verses by Virgil:

“facilis descensus Averno:

noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;

sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,

hoc opus, hic labor est” (Virg., Aen., vi, 126-129)

“… the downward path to death

Is easy; all the livelong night and day

Dark Pluto’s door stands open for a guest.

But 0! remounting to the world of light,

This is a task indeed, a strife supreme”

 “.. lo scender nell’Averno è cosa agevole,

ché notte e dì ne sta l’entrata aperta;

ma tornar poscia riveder le stelle,

qui la fatica e qui l’opra consiste”


Progetto in collaborazione con l’Ing. Bigi D. e l’ing. Faina V.


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