Alley of Waterwheels

The oldest and only surviving waterwheel in Damascus is in As-Salhieh district on the slopes of Mount Qassiyoun. This water-raising device dates back to the Ayubid era and was designed by Badi' Al-Zaman Al Jazari, the leading mechanical engineer of his times, who in 1206 wrote the famous "Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices."

The waterwheel used to carry water from Yazid River to a 12-meter-high canal ending in the nearby Al-Bimaristan Al-Qaymari Hospital. It remained in use until the early 1970s. Many other waterwheels existed in the area, which is still known as Ziqaq Al-Nawa'ir (Alley of Waterwheels).

Update: My friend GottfriedStutz left some very informative comments about Al-Jazari.


JiimSiin جيم سين said...

Great find, Ayman! Incredible. This is very interesting and goes to show how much there is still to know about Damascus... and about science.

By the way, al-hiyal (???????) was simply the Arabic word for "mechanics". I followed the link you provided about Al-Jaziri, and the description of his work reminded me of an even earlier book which adopted an approach quite similar to Al-Jaziri's: "kitaab al-hiyal" by Banii Mousa Ibn Shaaker, written in Baghdad in the mid-9th century A.D. The book was edited and re-published in Syria in the early 1980's, but I don't know who the publisher is.

Banou Mousa's extraordinary skills, Al-Ma'moun's sponsoring and the means of research offered by Bayt Al-Hikmah made it possible for the first books of mechanics to be published. Something to learn from today!

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization published a book in French which contains an interesting chapter about Banou Mousa:


Thanks again Ayman.

Anonymous said...

Waw, you're amazing, how did you find that?
Well, even that your grand father , was from Manshester :), u know about Damscus more than original Damascene.
Hey, if Omayad square is finished by now, and i doubt, could we have a picture of it?
Keep on the good work!

Anonymous said...

Ayman's grandfather is British, what?

Dina said...

Great post Ayman, I had no idea we had a water wheel in Damascus, I thought the water wheel in hammah was the only one Syria had. But this one looks pretty shaky, I hope it won't fall apart.

Anonymous said...

Hats off to you Ayman,
Long time fan of your blog; but with this post I felt compelled to write and thank you for such a find. Every subject you post draws me closer and closer to Damascus. Oh boy… getting excited to be there in 3 weeks.

Keep up the good work

Ihsan said...

Hmmmm, where do u get these things from? Man, I cannot wait to find a post on your blog that shows a sea shore in Damascus that I have never known about ;)

Original info, thanx man!

Ayman Haykal said...

I should mention that I found about this waterwheel when I was on a tour in Salhieh organized by the Friends of Damascus Association. I got some information about it from Quteiba Al-Shihabi's book "Dimashq: Traeekh Wa Sowar" (Damascus: History and Pictures).

Gottfried, thanks for this useful information. I thought the word "hiyal" meant "tricks", but as you said, it was the name Arabs used for mechanical devices. I didn't know much about Bani Moussa too. Is the link you provided available in English?

Anonymous, the Manchester thing is a joke between Yasser and me. I am 100% Syrian!

Yasser, work in the Omayyad Square is not done yet. They have installed traffic lights again now, and the Square is always jammed with cars like it has always been. I will send you some picture someday!

Dina, yes it is shaky and will someday fall apart if nobody will pay enough attention to it. Isn't it a shame that such a valuable historical asset is neglected and left without maintenance and protection?

Thanks Houssam and hope to see you more of you around.

LOL Ihsan, thanks! I think we all don't know enough about Damascus because many aspects of its history are neglected or at least not well promoted. This city has a very rich history, much richer that we'd ever expect. I think we'll keep discovering "new" things till the end of time!

JiimSiin جيم سين said...

Ayman, I wish there was a text in English. The link I sent you is about a book that was only made in French, for some unknown reason. However, there is another info that might interest you. Indeed, Donald Hill from Edinburgh University translated into English both Banu Musa (as he spells it) and Al-Jazari! Aha!

You can find more info about the importance of these books and about Hill's translations at http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=285

In particular, it is noteworthy to include here two of Hill's comments concerning Al-Jazari, if only to prove that you, Ayman found something more interesting that we had tought in the beginning. Here are Hill's comments:

"It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of Al-Jazari`s work in the history of engineering. Until modern times there is no other document from any cultural area that provides a comparable wealth of instructions for the design, manufacture and assembly of machines"

"Al-Jazari did not only assimilate the techniques of his non-Arab and Arab predecessors, he was also creative. He added several mechanical and hydraulic devices. The impact of these inventions can be seen in the later designing of steam engines and internal combustion engines, paving the way for automatic control and other modern machinery. The impact of Al-Jazari`s inventions is still felt in modern contemporary mechanical engineering."

One last thing: Yes, I confirm that the arabic word "hiyal" was used to designate both "mechanics" and "tricks" (or "astute solutions"). Nowadays, the only use of the word which remains is "tricks".

Keep up the excellent unravelling, Ayman. Thanks again.

Yazan said...

wow, I always wondered how a huge capital like damascus could've survived and expanded that much in history with a river inside, and not have waterwheels for the farms around..

thx ayman, ;)

Unknown said...

??? ??

Martin said...

That's really amazing! To think that it was invented such a long time ago and still in use till the 1970s.

Magical! Thanks :-)

- Martin

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Anonymous said...

nice picture....aymon
about manchester....i thought that iit is birmingham???????
what is going on?
keep me updated ya habib....and please send me some picture of the party??? oka see u soon

Mohachan said...

U know Aymn,
even iam from the ALSALEHIEH and my house before was not far away from the zoqaq alnawaier but i didnt know it,,,next time when i will go Syria i will take alook to it as iam doing my usual visit to my old places and restoring my old memories in Souk Algoumah
Great work as always,,
Best regards from Japan

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JiimSiin جيم سين said...

Ayman, I'm honored to see in your blog a link to the additional information which I left. Thank you very much.

Catherine said...

I agree, it should be more taken care of..shouldn't be just left to fall apart..It would a shame if it did..
Interesting info even damascenes did'nt know about!