City and countryside

The historical record shows how important it was for hydraulic engineering to have social utility in Antiquity. Its effects must be recognized by the beneficiaries – but often these beneficiaries are far from the hydraulic projects themselves. If they are in the countryside, they may easily recognize the utility of large irrigation canals, such as the thirty-kilometer long ones on the Euphrates and the Oxus from the IIIrd millennium BC. In these pages we have not often come across the “paradise lost”, the dream of a small community to be able to manage its own technological development at the local level. Such situations probably existed in the very early development of agriculture, and we find it again in the Syrian and Anatolian countryside during the Byzantine Empire. In order to try to survive, to struggle against floods that threatened houses and crops, and to avoid death when the river on which they depended for their livelihood overflowed its banks, civilizations had to assemble and organize significant manpower. This in itself was surely a potent element in the creation of civilizations, as has been proposed by numerous theories and as we have tried to point out in this book.

The cities need raw material and food. The early Sumerian cities had to import wood, rocks, and metals. The Pharaohs import beautiful stone for their Nubian monu­ments, and wood from the mountains of Lebanon. Rome imports its wheat from Sicily, Tunisia, and Egypt. The successive capitals of the imperial Chinese dynasties import their grains from the alluvial plain of the Yellow River and, later, their rice from the Yangtze basin. Watercourses, their ports and canals, provide the primary support for all these exchanges. The Nahr Daourin, parallel to the Euphrates, flows along an impres­sive 120 km, likely from the very beginning of the Bronze Age. And in China during the Middle Ages, the Grand Canal stretches from the south to the north of the middle empire, over hundreds of kilometers.

Cities need water. The “so numerous and necessary aqueducts” that the Romans extended over all their empire are works of “great transport”, crisscrossing the country­side to meet the urban water needs of Rome, Lyon, Nimes, Toledo, Carthage, Antioch,

Apamea, Jerusalem………. The Roman lifestyle required these aqueducts. And when the

barbarian invasions in the West put an end to this lifestyle, they also put an end to the need for these aqueducts, causing their demise just as if the barbarians had destroyed them, though generally they did not do so. But fortunately this destruction did not gen­erally occur. Still, few aqueducts survive the closed mindedness that characterized the Middle Ages in the West. But in the Orient the Arabs perpetuated the Romano – Hellinistic patrician lifestyle to some degree. The pleasures of the city are first and fore­most the pleasures of water – baths, ablutions, strolls in gardens or along the banks of rivers. It is water that makes of Damascus, Samarcand and Nishapur the very images of paradise for the Arabs.

Of course there is also a prosaic dimension to water in the city. Wastewater dispos­al requires its own hydraulic techniques. From the first gutters used to drain wastewater from houses in the Neolithic village of El-Kowm in Syria, this concern for wastewater – that one might think to be only a modern preoccupation – is continuous in the Bronze Age in the cities of the Indus, in the new cities like Habuba Kebira and Mari on the Euphrates, and in Crete where the refinement of urban hydraulics reaches its pinnacle. We also find attention given to wastewater in Roman cities and in many Arab settle­ments. But during the Middle Ages in the West, and even in our recent Age of Enlightenment, this preoccupation too often falls by the wayside.

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