Situated on the banks of the Orontes River, the ancient city of Hama is an important industrial and agricultural center that dates back to the early Iron Age. Although the city’s economy had always depended on agriculture, evidence of when Hama water wheels, or norias, were first developed goes back only to the Byzantine Era.
The water wheels in Hama are part of a very ancient irrigation system. The main purpose for these was to move water through the aqueducts.
However, none of the Hama water wheels that still stand today are from periods earlier than the Ayyubid Dynasty (late 12th to early 13th centuries). During the Mamluk era, many norias were overhauled and enlarged. It was also during this era that more water wheels were made. At one point, there were more than thirty norias in Hama.
Unfortunately, only 17 of the original water wheels have survived into the 21st century. They are still in good working condition, although the water from these wheels is no longer used. On average, the Hama water wheels’ diameter reaches up to 66 feet. Each wheel has a given name, and the biggest one is known as Al-Mohammediyyah, which used to give the Great Mosque its water supply.
Because the walls of the Orontes River were too deep for water to be sourced directly from the river, the wooden wheels were designed and constructed as part of an irrigation system for the fields in Hama. In their heyday, the main purpose of the Hama water wheels were for them to raise water from the Orontes and then drop the water in aqueducts and canals that would transfer the water to the fields.
The norias were powered by the river’s powerful currents. Wooden boxes attached to each noria scooped up water from the Orontes and then deposited the water into a channel at the wheel’s rotation summit. Through the force of gravity, the water traveled along a series of aqueducts, which distributed the water to various areas in Hama. There was also a carefully thought-out schedule for access to the flow of water so that it could reach everyone.