Mediterranean region is one where water conservation is
vital in summer. Rainfall is limited mainly to the winter,
and summer crops need irrigation, while people and animals
need water for drinking and bathing. Deserts meet the
southern and eastern borders of the Mediterranean region,
and because of this, water management technologies have
spread to the better-watered areas of the Mediterranean from
Hydraulic technologies in the region have reaped wonderful
rewards: productive fields, beautiful gardens, sparkling
fountains and populous cities. Many important food, fiber,
and flower crops were introduced to the region because of
careful water management. A few examples are rice, sugar,
cotton, citrus, almond, peach, apricot, and fig, but also
roses and other beautiful and fragrant flowers, medicinal
herbs and spices. They all became part of Mediterranean and
Medieval Andalusian life.
technologies were used to collect, channel, redirect and
conserve water in Medieval Andalus? Rainwater was collected
from ceramic-tiled roofs through a system of gutters and
pipes that moved the water to underground cisterns for
storage. Water from the winter rains thus became available
for summer gardens. Spain’s rivers, such as the Guadalquivir
or Great Valley), had a system of dams and flood control
walls built by its Muslim rulers.
Aqueducts that had been built by the Romans were maintained
and improved under Muslim rule to carry water from mountain
streams to the cities and fields where it was needed. Some
aqueducts let out into dancing fountains that worked without
electric pumps (of course), by carefully harnessing the
powers of gravity and water pressure using narrow pipes.
Norias, or huge
wooden waterwheels, were also carried over from Roman times
and improved upon. Some
norias are still functioning today. Their purpose
was to raise the level of water from the source into the
canal system, and maintain this level. Irrigation of
farmland was carried out thorugh a system of ditches and
gates called in Spanish
quench”), which spread to the New World with the Spanish,
and is still used in the American southwest.
important use of hydraulic technologies went far beyond
farming or gardening, and beyond the beauty of sparkling
fountains. Hydraulic technologies can be used to generate
power --to harness the motion of water to do work. Today of
course, hydroelectric power is generated as electricity.
That innovation did not come until about a century ago. In
Medieval times, water power was harnessed -- literally like
an animal -- to push, pump, grind, pound, drill, and spin.
The motion of water falling on a wheel fitted with paddles,
or a river’s current pushing the paddles of the wheel, could
provide a steady source of circular motion that could be
transferred through a series of gears to turn a grinding
wheel or a potter’s wheel. It could be changed into
up-and-down motion with trip-hammers to pound wood pulp for
paper, sugar cane stalks to extract the juice, or rice to
break the hulls. This innovative use of the waterwheel in
Andalus was transferred from eastern Muslim lands, from
Persia, and even as far away as China. From Spain it spread
to other parts of Europe. Another technology similar to
hydraulic power is the windmill. This technology is believed
to have come from Persia, and the windmill became a
prominent symbol of life in Spain, and then in Holland.
Windmills were also used to pump water out of wells, or out
of mines, to keep miners safe. Windmills could grind grain
much as a waterwheel could, but a windmill did not require a
river, making it especially suited to arid, windswept
lands. Windmills and waterwheels were among the important
technologies that spread from Andalus to other parts of
Europe during the time of the translation efforts of the 11th
century. One way to trace the origin of something is to find
evidence in the culture of the country. Don Quixote’s famous
attack on the imaginary giants, which were actually
windmills, is one such piece of evidence. Another is poetry,
as in this poem about a waterwheel originally written in
wonderful is the waterwheel! It spins around like a
celestial sphere, yet there are no stars on it.
placed over the river by hands that decreed that it refresh
others’ spirits as it, itself, grows tired.
like a free man, in chains, or like a prisoner marching
rises and falls from the wheel as if it were a cloud that
draws water from the sea and later pours it out.
eyes fell in love with it, for it is a boon companion to the
garden, a cupbearer who doesn’t drink.
(Valencia, d. 1260 CE)
Y. al-Hassan and Donald R. Hill.
Islamic Technology: An
Illustrated History. Cambridge, 1986. p. 53.
Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages.
Princeton, N.J., 1979. pp. 230-235.
F. Glick and Helena Kirchner. "Hydraulic Systems and
Technologies of Islamic Spain: History and Archaeology,"
Working with Water in
Medieval Europe: Technology and Resource-Use.
Paolo Squatriti, ed. Leiden, 2000. pp. 267-330.
A History of
Engineering in Classical and Medieval Times.
Saudi Aramco World
Magazine, 57: 3 (May/June 2006).
from book by
Al-Jazari, (13th century CE) in the Süleymaniye Library,
Istanbul. published in
Hossein Nasr. Islamic
Science: An Illustrated Study.
World of Islam Festival Publishing Ltd., 1976. Retrieved at
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