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.
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.