Brad Lancaster  @  ChelseaGreen

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Roman- and Byzantine-era Cisterns of the Past Reviving Life in the Present

Posted on Friday, July 8th, 2011 at 1:16 pm by Brad Lancaster

All photos and text by Brad Lancaster, © 2011

This is number six in a series of Drops in a Bucket Blog posts on Brad Lancaster’s water wanderings in the Middle East; this trip led in part to Volume 1 of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond being translated into Arabic, and Brad’s participation in the upcoming International Permaculture Convergence in Jordan this September. NOTE: If traveling to the Middle East, check out this blog series for dynamic projects and sites to check out.

In northern Jordan during the summer of 2009, I was on a mission to document a modern-day Roman-era cistern resurgence. I met with Engineer and Permaculture Project Manager Sameeh Al-Nuimat at the Care International office outside Amman. He was great. He has rural hardworking roots, loves native plants and traditional ways, is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about whole-system design, and decided we’d begin the day by having an Arabic breakfast with everyone in the office. We all grouped around a very small, low table piled high with hummus, pita, olives, falafel etc, and ate with our hands. What a wonderful way to bring everyone together as the day begins!

The Village of Rainwater Tea
We then made for the water. In the village of Bayudah Al Shrquia there is a long tradition of rainwater harvesting. Roman- and Byzantine-era cisterns abound in both ruin and reuse, with the limestone hills peppered with underground tanks dug into the rock. Many of these tanks have been in continual use since their creation over a thousand years ago, while others have been newly refurbished, funded in part by revolving community loan funds often facilitated by Care International. The cisterns are olla-shaped, and often built below a limestone catchment. A depressed sediment trap just in front of the cistern’s water entrance is usually the only filtration. A boulder with a trap door is put atop the cistern opening so no one falls in.

Steel door atop ancient cistern access portalTo read on and see more photos, follow this link to my Drops In A Bucket Blog on my website. You'll be able to follow me down into an underground cistern, learn more about ancient water-harvesting systems, and drink a virtual glass of mint rainwater tea with me….


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