A noria (Arabic: ناعورة‎, nā‘ūra, plural نواعير nawāʿīr, from Syriac: ܢܥܘܪܐ‎, nā‘orā, lit. "growler") is a hydropowered machine used to lift water into a small aqueduct, either for the purpose of irrigation or for the use in towns and villages. There is at least one known instance where it feeds seawater into a saltern.

A noria running in southern Germany, on the river Regnitz
A noria (or more likely a sakia, since it is connected to a well) in Parque María Cristina, Algeciras, Spain.
Hydrographic demonstration piece near the ancient noria of the barrio of La Montaña, Aranjuez

Noria versus saqiyahEdit

The terms referring to traditional water-raising devices used in the Middle East, India, Spain and other areas are sometimes used rather loosely. The term noria is commonly used for devices using the power of moving water. For devices powered by animals, the usual term is saqiyah or sakia. Other types of similar devices are grouped under the name of chain pumps. In Spain the term noria is used also for devices which are actually saqiyas.

A noria proper uses the energy derived from the flow of a river. It consists of a large, very narrow undershot water wheel whose rim is made up of a series of containers which lift water from the river to a very small aqueduct at the top of the wheel.


The noria performs the function of moving water from a lower elevation to a higher elevation. In this it is similar to the saqiyah and other pumps, but those are generally powered by other means, not by a water wheel. Its concept is similar to the modern hydraulic ram, which also uses the power of flowing water to pump some of the water out of the river.[1]

Unlike the water wheels found in watermills, a noria does not provide mechanical power to any other process.

A few historical norias were hybrids, consisting of waterwheels assisted secondarily by animal power.

A noria can raise water to somewhat less than its full height. The largest noria in the world, with a diameter of about 20 metres (66 ft), is in Ḥamāh, Syria.


Paddle-driven water-lifting wheels had appeared in ancient Egypt by the 4th century BC.[2] According to John Peter Oleson, both the compartmented wheel and the hydraulic noria appeared in Egypt by the 4th century BC, with the saqiyah being invented there a century later. This is supported by archeological finds in the Faiyum, where the oldest archeological evidence of a water wheel has been found, in the form of a saqiyah dating back to the 3rd century BC. A papyrus dating to the 2nd century BC also found in the Faiyum mentions a water wheel used for irrigation, a 2nd-century BC fresco found at Alexandria depicts a compartmented saqiyah, and the writings of Callixenus of Rhodes mention the use of a saqiyah in the Ptolemaic Kingdom during the reign of Pharaoh Ptolemy IV Philopator in the late 3rd century BC.[3]

The undershot water wheel and overshot water wheel, both animal- and water-driven, and with either a compartmented body (Latin tympanum) or a compartmented rim, were used by Hellenistic engineers between the 3rd and 2nd century BC.[4] In 1st century BC, Roman architect Vitruvius described the function of the noria.[5] Around 300, the Romans replaced the wooden compartments with separate, attached ceramic pots that were tied to the outside of an open-framed wheel, thereby creating the noria.[6]

During the Islamic Golden Age, norias were adopted from classical antiquity by Muslim engineers,[7] who made improvements to the noria.[8] For example, the flywheel mechanism used to smooth out the delivery of power from a driving device to a driven machine, was invented by ibn Bassal (fl. 1038–1075) of al-Andalus, who pioneered the use of the flywheel in the noria and saqiyah.[9] In 1206, Ismail al-Jazari introduced the use of the crankshaft in the noria and saqiya, and the concept of minimizing intermittency was implied for the purpose of maximising their efficiency.[10]

Muslim engineers used norias to discharge water into aqueducts which carried the water to towns and fields.[7] Some of the norias used in the medieval Islamic world were as large as 20 metres in diameter, the norias of Hama being a surviving example still used in modern times (although currently only serving aesthetic purposes). It has 120 water collection compartments and could raise more than 95 litres of water per minute.[1] In the 10th century, Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi's Al-Hawi describes a noria in Iraq that could lift as much as 153,000 litres per hour, or 2550 litres per minute. This is comparable to the output of modern norias in East Asia, which can lift up to 288,000 litres per hour, or 4800 litres per minute.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Machines of the East". Ancient Discoveries. Season 3. Episode 10. History Channel. Retrieved 2008-09-07.
  2. ^ Örjan Wikander (2008). "Chapter 6: Sources of Energy and Exploitation of Power". In John Peter Oleson (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World. Oxford University Press. pp. 141–2. ISBN 978-0-19-518731-1.
  3. ^ Adriana de Miranda (2007). Water architecture in the lands of Syria: the water-wheels. L'Erma di Bretschneider. pp. 38–9. ISBN 978-88-8265-433-7.
  4. ^ Oleson 1984, pp. 325ff.; Oleson 2000, pp. 217–302; Donners, Waelkens & Deckers 2002, pp. 10−15; Wikander 2000, pp. 371−400
  5. ^ "Noria". Britannica.
  6. ^ Oleson 1984, pp. 337f., 366−368; Oleson 2000, pp. 235
  7. ^ a b Donald Hill (1996), "Engineering", in Roshdi Rashed, Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 3, p. 751-795 [775].
  8. ^ Thomas F. Glick (1977), "Noria Pots in Spain", Technology and Culture 18 (4), p. 644-650.
  9. ^ Ahmad Y. al-Hassan, Flywheel Effect for a Saqiya.
  10. ^ Donald Hill, "Engineering", in Roshdi Rashed (ed.), Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 2, pp. 751-795 [776], Routledge, London and New York
  11. ^ Donald Hill (1996). A history of engineering in classical and medieval times. Routledge. pp. 145–6. ISBN 0-415-15291-7.

Further readingEdit

  • Donners, K.; Waelkens, M.; Deckers, J. (2002). Water Mills in the Area of Sagalassos: A Disappearing Ancient Technology. Anatolian Studies. 52. British Institute at Ankara. pp. 1–17. doi:10.2307/3643076. JSTOR 3643076.
  • Oleson, John Peter (1984), Greek and Roman Mechanical Water-Lifting Devices: The History of a Technology, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 90-277-1693-5
  • Oleson, John Peter (2000), "Water-Lifting", in Wikander, Örjan (ed.), Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History, 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 217–302, ISBN 90-04-11123-9
  • Wikander, Örjan (2000), "The Water-Mill", in Wikander, Örjan (ed.), Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History, 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 371–400, ISBN 90-04-11123-9

External linksEdit