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The Water Wheel Album: Page Five

The Noria Water Wheels

In the drier climates of North Africa and Spain, and elsewhere, the Romans were
responsible for extensive irrigation systems, using the Archimedean screw and the noria (a water-powered scoop wheel) to raise water. This type of water wheel includes the largest water wheel in the world, being 90 feet in diameter and the oldest, being 900 to 1,000 years old.

The wheel, along whose circumference were attached buckets or clay pots, and was powered by movement of the current. The current of the stream turned the water wheel, as it did the wheel rotates lowering the empty pots down into the stream where they were filled with water. As the wheel continued to turn the filled pots became upturned as they reached the upward rotation of the wheel emptying their contents into a trough or aqueduct that carried the water away. Then the empty pots would continue down ward to be filled once again, just like the grain or flour elevator of Oliver Evans.

The wheels were solely used just to raise water. The lower recipients filled up by immersion and the upper ones emptied by gravity, feeding an aqueduct or a storage tank. Some water wheels, if the current of the stream allowed had double sets of pots on each side of their rims or simply two wheels on the same shaft. This allowed a single turning wheel to lift twice as much water as a wheel with only one rim with pots attached.

The noria is a water powered machine that is most suitable in areas where there are fast flowing streams whose courses are some distance below the surrounding fields. The wheels are mounted between piers which carry the bearings for the axle. The diameter of the largest wheel is about 20 meters and there are 120 compartments in the rim. The wheel is turned by the impact of water on paddles mounted on the rim. The compartments dip into the water and are carried to the top where they discharge into a head tank connected to an aqueduct. The noria was already in use in Roman times and was described by Vitruvius in 1 BC.

The Noria, or Egyptian Wheel is thought to be the first vertical water wheel in history. It dates from the early Roman Empire, around 700-600 B.C., and was primarily used by the empire in Egypt, while other parts of the empire used the chain of pots or the water screw. The Egyptian wheel was a wooden wheel with buckets attached around the rim. It was set on a transverse axis in such a way as to submerge the lower portion of the wheel. Functioning in much the same way as the chain of pots, it was rotated to raise the water in the buckets to the level of the top of the wheel.

References in the works of Arab geographers show that norias were in use throughout the Muslin world. Gertrude Bell took several photos of noria water wheel in March of 1909, while in El 'Ajmiyyeh - Iraq. The description of the photos says: El Ajmiyyeh [Naoura - waterwheel on Euphrates].

The noria once commonly in Spain and North Africa, apparently was seldom used in colonial Middle America. Today, this ancient water lift is seen in only a few farming areas in the northern Mexican states. It also survives in the Yucatan Peninsula, where it was introduced by Spanish priests. One group of farmers in Veracruz, Mexico, however, is contradicting the trend the modern era, and is reverting back to using the traditional technology of the noria. The idea is the same but the once clay pots are now replaced with a more common material of the modern age, the empty 5 gallon plastic bucket.

The giant water wheel was the subject in one of the Ripley's Believe it or Not! The caption said, "A water wheel on the Ornotes River in Syria is still working, although it was built in the year 1000." Although the machines are now rarely used, some fine examples can still be seen, notably on the River Orontes at Hama in Syria.

Hama, Syria

Hama is a river town, built on the banks of the Orontes. The town is famous for the 17 huge wooden water wheels, known as norias, which once scooped water from the river and deposited it into the aqueducts, which then supplied homes, public buildings and farms. These wheels are about 20 meters in diameter and still turn today, although their water is not used.

The norias situated in the town center are located in a public park and the Four Norias of Bichriyat are situated on a weir about 1kilometer up-river from the town center. The largest noria is known as Al-Mohammediyyah.

The Persian Water Wheel

Many people refer to the Persian Water Wheel as being a noria water wheel, but in fact the Persian water wheel is actually classified as a pump rather than a water wheel. The Persian water wheel is an endless series of pots. These pots being of unequal weight turned over two pulleys. They were used to raise water out of wells and mines. Later the endless series of pots were attached to chains and often used in a two series set. This idea was also adapted to a series of flat plates attached to a chain also at regular intervals to pump water from wooden sailing ships. Some have claimed that this is where Oliver Evans got his idea for the elevator by seeing drawings in an encyclopedia. The Persian water wheel uses the principle of the pulley and axle, while the noria wheel also adds the factor of the lever into the machine. The Persian water wheel came into common use. As in Mesopotamia, it consisted of a chain pump comprising a number of earthen pots carried round and round by a pulley or drum wheel.

Dictionary Definitions of the word Noria

From Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary: (1913)

Noria- a large water wheel, turned by the action of a stream against its floats, and carrying at its circumference buckets, by which water is raised and discharged into a trough; used in Arabia, China, and elsewhere for irrigating land; a Persian wheel.

From WordNet:

Noria: a water wheel with buckets attached to the rim; used to raise water for transfer to an irrigation channel.

Reference sources for additional information:

Doolittle, William E., " Against the Current and Against the Odds: Noria Technology in Mexico," Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin. It appears in the Bulletin of the International Molinological Society, International Molinology, Number 59, December 1999, pages 8-13, and at the following url address:

Oleson, John Peter, "Greek and Roman Mechanical Water-Lifting Devices:
The History of a Technology," Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.

Reynolds, Terry S., "Stronger Than A Hundred Men, A History of the Vertical Water Wheel," The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 1983.

Schioler, Thorkild, "Roman and Islamic Water-Lifting Wheels," Odense:
Odense University Press, 1973.

Vitruvius, Marcus Pollio, "Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture,"
translated by Morris Hickey Morgan. New York: Dover Publications, 1960.

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