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The Norias of Hama in Syria

 

 

 

The mere mention of the name Hama, the Syrian town 140 km south of Aleppo, triggers images of giant waterwheels gently turning along the banks of a river. Most travelers drop in for a short visit on their way to Aleppo or Damascus.

The city of Hama, or Hamat (means citadel in Arabic) lies some 200 kilometers north of Damascus and boasts with a long history dating back to 2000 BC. The giant wheels (nawaeer) were built by the Byzantines and have been used to lift water from the Orontes river (nahr el-Assi) onto nearby land, orchards and houses. Today, they stand as prominent historical and ancient landmarks that add a decorative touch with restaurants and cafés that line up the town’s riverside.

The Norias of Hama  are a number of norias ("wheels of pots") along the Orontes River in the city of Hama, Syria. Only seventeen of the original norias remain. They are mostly unused now and serve an aesthetic purpose. They were called "the most splendid norias ever constructed." The norias of Hama were submitted as a tentative World Heritage Site by the Syrian Arab Republic in June 1999.

 History

The earliest evidence for norias in Hama suggests they were developed during the Byzantine era, although none of the norias in Hama today precede the Ayyubid period. However, a mosaic found at Apamea dating to 469 CE pictures a noria very similar to those at Hama, suggesting they may have earlier origins. It was during the Mamluk era that many of the norias—initially started during the rule of the Ayyubid dynasty in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century—were reconditioned and enlarged. The Mamluks also increased the amount of norias in the city. At one time, medieval Hama contained more than thirty of the waterwheels. Aqueducts and other channeling systems were built to take water from the Orontes River and use it to irrigate nearby fields. Now only 17 norias remain, unused.

The noria wheel is up to 20 meters (66 ft) in diameter. The water in the river is channeled into a sluice so that its flow turns the wheel around. Wooden boxes attached to the wheel raise the water from the sluice and discharge it into an artificial channel at the summit of the wheel's rotation. The water is then led by gravity along a series of aqueduct channels. It was distributed to domestic or agricultural users in Hama; access to the flow was regulated at carefully worked-out times so that the water could be shared.

There are two norias on the river close to the citadel. Upstream from the town center at Bichriyat, are four more wheels that can be viewed from outdoor restaurants. Downstream from the center is the largest noria, the al-Mohamadiyya, which used to supply the Great Mosque with water. Part of its old aqueduct still spans the road. It was built in the fourteenth century and restoration work on it began in 1977.

Butheina Alnounou

 

 

 

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