The Howls of the Rebel River in Hama Syria

The highlight of the city of Hama is by no doubt the norias or “wheels of pots”.  Seventeen now remain standing and occasionally running above the Nahr al-Assi, aka Rebel River.   Many know it as being the Orontes River.  It’s presently the job of the office of Antiquities in Hama to make sure that these remaining wheels can still function as they did 1000-years-ago and remain aesthetically pleasing drawing in tourists and travelers.   Authors Needham and Ronan described them as “the most splendid norias ever constructed.” and they are right to some degree.

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According to author Joseph Needham, the Noria are believed to have been first constructed in India around 350 B.C.  The technology later spread east to China and then west to the Mediterranean Region.  What was unique about Norias is that they are powered only by flowing water .   Cows, camels, wind, steam or even people are unnecessary.   Unfortunately, the water to be needs to high enough to work properly. The climate in Hama allows them to work around 5 months out of  the year.  The use of dams and the luck of a rainy spring keeps the creaking wheels spinning.

The norias are thought to have been constructed in Hama during the Byzantine era but the jury is still out on whether it was earlier.  It is known that their numbers peaked to around 30 during the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1510). The Turkish governor ordered the restoration of the Roman built water wheels after he conquered the area.  They made the 200-year-old wheels bigger and added more along the river.  The norias brought water to its inhabitants and their farms.  The crop yields skyrocketed, trade increased and it’s people grew rich.  The Orontes Valley still remains Syria’s agricultural heartland.
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Hama and it’s great Beehives

We were at a crossroads in Syria and needed to figure out whether the next stop should be the ancient city of Hama aka Hamah (Epiphania) or Homs aka Hims, Syria?    We then turned to the help of the internet.  We checked out some somewhat reliable travel forums, did some quick Google searches, read a little  and decided that Hama was a good jumping point to see several sites including: Krak des ChevaliersApameaQasr ibn Wardanthe Dead Cities or Serjilla and of course the Norias in town. Besides, its mid-June and it’s getting into the upper 80′s F.   This is probably why we have found very few travelers and have the sites pretty much to ourselves.   This is a good and bad thing.  We still have to make our way up through eastern Turkey but we will be trekking up to see  Mount Nemrut (2150m altitude) and it’s still chilly before the sun rises so no real hurry. We’re ok staying here for a few days.

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