Noria – Hama’s ancient giant Waterwheels

When having a look at the city of Hama (حماة) from space, then one can quickly spot Orontes River winding itself like green belt through Hama’s gaunt and desert-like vicinity. Ancestors took advantage of the river’s life-giving character and built an irrigation system having archaic pump stations in the form of giant wooden water wheels, so called Norias. Even today those ancient survivors of all times spread its fairytale vibe all over.

Having reached Hama you can’t miss Orontes River as it is dominating the city scape like Spree River does with Berlin. Well, in times of low water it is also unmissable too due to its vast smell. The ducks enjoying their head over feet bath in that indefinably sludge apparently do not mind a suboptimal water quality though, so hopefully dinner this evening is not poultry…

Following the course of the river bed you’ll see plenty of diverse wooden water wheels being bucket-spangled back then in ancient times to elevate water from the river a level higher. The Arabic countries consider the Norias of Hama as the most beautiful ever built and with a delivery head of up to 30 metres they are even the tallest of its kind in the world. Hama already applied that its Norias will be acknowledged as UNESCO world heritage site, but so far the unique giant water wheels are still waiting for that.

Unfortunately there is no direct access to most of the water wheels, hence a tele lens is necessary to capture them. Though it is visible to the unaided eye that virtually all water wheels got a repair like (for example) a mix of old and new timber spokes reveals. Thus people take care of them and since the wheels are pretty old it would be really interesting to know how much repair timber a water wheel has consumed throughout the years.

Wandering through Hama’s old town and orientating at the course of Orontes River it doesn’t take much time to meet one of the Norias (ناعورة), also because you’ll instantly hear them creaking, but only when the water level permits the sliders to become opened. Almost all of the water wheels are still attached to the aqueducts that in ancient times delivered the water to the fields and farms surrounding the city. Nowadays the Noria water wheels are running for aesthetic reasons only though.

One of the old town bridges spanning Orontes River provides a lovely perspective of three water wheels, while two of them are even large. The surrounding old Arabic architecture plus a green illuminated minaret spire add a wonderful vibe to the scene that could not be more oriental. It doesn’t take much time and people watch over my shoulder what I am doing.

Among those people is a mother with her daughter. Despite permitting only very few people in my photos their “flirting” melts my heart and I take them a photo in front of the Norias. How could I ignore their kind question? In the blink of an eye all other people solidly bomb that selfie :-) Today, sadly enough, I have to ask myself if those people are still alive, are unscathed or on the run away from Syrian civil war.

Used photo equipment: Canon EOS 20D, Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5, Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, Sigma 80-400 OS f/4.5-5.6

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