The Water Wheels of Hama are part of an ancient irrigation system and were used to raise water into aqueducts. They have been used for a couple of thousand years to irrigate the city and surrounding valleys. There is an old mosaic in the Hama museum, found in Apamea and dated to 469 A.D. showing their use. They operate by rolling with the river current, scooping water from the Orontes, and depositing it in the aqueducts for distribution. Such wheels were a fairly common sight in the ancient Roman world.
While there are a small handful of ancient water wheels scattered about the world, including China, the largest collection of these wheels (along with their ruined aqueducts) are found in Hama, Syria. There are 17 wheels there which date back to Byzantine times. The largest of the wheels, 66 feet (20 meters) in diameter are the wheels named “al-Mamunye” and Muhammediye (all 17 wheels have names).
The use of the water wheels as an irrigation tool was abandoned in the middle of the 20th century. They were replaced by diesel pumps which are in operation today. The Syrian government still allocates funds for their maintenance, ensuring that this particular Syrian icon does not die. Even though the wheels are a protected landmark, they provide a wet local playground for those who like to dive from them.
Here is a general video of Hama including the wheels and divers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWW9HvGiYKk&feature=related
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