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.
The 17 remaining noria were used all the way up to the 1980s and are presently protected and maintained by the local government of Hama. Many were undamaged after some military conflicts in the early 1980’s. This is when Syrian troops rolled into town in attempt to stop a revolt against the government by members of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood group led by local guerilla leader Abu Bakr on Feb 2, 1982. It all got out of hand when rebellious rooftop snipers targeted and killed several Syrian military guards, which were followed by calls for a jihad from the minarets of the Great Mosque against the Ba’athists leaders of Syria and soon after Syrian tanks and soldiers ambushed the city.
At the end of the three-week surge, most of the city’s old quarter was turned into a parking lot and many innocent people running for their lives were gunned down. It is said that as little as 7,000 lives and as many as 40,000 lives ended that month. The Syrian government was condemned for its harsh action against its own people. Was this why Hama seemed less populated than other towns and cities visited on my way through Syria? The locals understandably don’t talk about those darks days and it’s not a surprise that the only pictures of Hafez al-Assad or his son around Hama are on the walls of government buildings.
The Norias seemed to have been left alone during those three disastrous weeks of the Hama Massacre back in early 1982 unlike the Great Mosque and areas around the Old City. On this day in June, there only problem is that they now lay still and dry amongst puddles of green filthy mud, river grass and trash. The water is low and today there’s not chance of hearing the infamous incessant moaning and groaning sounds the water wheels. These creaky wooden wheels cries can drown out any muezzin during the call to prayer at the Great Mosque. One can only imagine what 30 running at the same time must have sounded like. For more extensive information on Hama, Noria etc. please cliche on the following links: