Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Ancient Roman Concrete Is About to Revolutionize Modern Architecture

Roman Temple in Pozzuoli, Bay of Naples, Italy
Roman Temple in Pozzuoli, Bay of Naples, ItalyPhotograph by Angela Sorrentino

After 2,000 years, a long-lost secret behind the creation of one of the world’s most durable man-made creations ever—Roman concrete—has finally been discovered by an international team of scientists, and it may have a significant impact on how we build cities of the future.

As anyone who’s ever visited Italy knows, the ancient Romans were master engineers. Their roads, aqueducts, and temples are still holding up remarkably well despite coming under siege over the centuries by waves of sacking marauders, mobs of tourists, and the occasional earthquake. One such structure that has fascinated geologists and engineers throughout the ages is the Roman harbor. Over the past decade, researchers from Italy and the U.S. have analyzed 11 harbors in the Mediterranean basin where, in many cases, 2,000-year-old (and sometimes older) breakwaters constructed out of Roman concrete stand perfectly intact despite constant pounding by the sea.