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For other uses, see Noria (disambiguation).
Hydrographic demonstration piece near the ancient noria of the barrio of La Montaña, near Hospital Tajo, Aranjuez
A noria (or more likely a sakia, since connected to a well) in Spain.
Sound of a noria

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A noria (Arabic: ناعورة‎, nā‘ūra, from Syriac: ܢܥܘܪܐ, nā‘urā) is a machine activated by water power and used for lifting 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.[dubious ]

"Noria" versus "sakia"/"saqiya"[edit]

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 sakia or saqiya. 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 sakias.

The proper noria 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.

A sakia or saqiya differs from a noria in the way it is powered, and by the fact that it raises water out of a well or body of standing water, not a river. Sakias can have its water-scooping pots or buckets attached directly to a vertical wheel, which makes it look very much like a noria, thus the many confusions; or it can use a so-called pot-garland, a chain of pots slung over the vertical wheel which hangs down into a well which may be up to 8 m (26 ft) deep. The most primitive sakias are driven by donkeys, mules, or oxen. The animal turns a horizontal wheel, which is engaged with the vertical one, and so causes it to turn.

In Spanish an animal-driven sakia is named aceña, with the exception of the Cartagena area, where it is called a noria de sangre, or "waterwheel of blood". Another, much rarer type of sakia uses the same system, of a necklace of clay or wooden buckets, but it is driven by the wind. The wind-driven sakias in the vicinity of Cartagena, are virtually identical in appearance with the local grinding mills.


The noria performs the function of moving water from a lower elevation to a higher elevation. In this it is similar to the saqiya 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 mills, 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 meters, is located in the Syrian city of Hama.


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 invented by Hellenistic engineers between the 3rd and 2nd century BC.[2] Around 300 AD, 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.[3]

Norias were adopted from the Classical World by Muslim engineers,[4] who made some improvements to the noria.[5] 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 saqiya.[6] In 1206, Al-Jazari introduced the use of the crankshaft in the noria and saqiya, and the concept of minimizing intermittency[7] was implied for the purpose of maximising their efficiency.[8]

Muslim engineers used norias to discharge water into aqueducts which carried the water to towns and fields.[4] Some of the norias used in the medieval Islamic world were as large as 20 meters in diameter, the norias at Hama being a surviving example still used in modern times (although currently only serving aesthetical purposes). It has 120 water collection compartments and could raise more than 95 litres of water per minute.[1] Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi's Kitab al-Hawi in the 10th century 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.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Machines of the East". Ancient Discoveries. Season 3. Episode 10. [[History (U.S. TV channel) |History Channel]]. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  2. ^ Oleson 1984, pp. 325ff.; Oleson 2000, pp. 217–302; Donners & Waelkens 2002, pp. 10−15; Wikander 2000, pp. 371−400
  3. ^ Oleson 1984, pp. 337f., 366−368; Oleson 2000, pp. 235
  4. ^ a b Donald Routledge Hill (1996), "Engineering", in Roshdi Rashed, Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 3, p. 751-795 [775].
  5. ^ Thomas F. Glick (1977), "Noria Pots in Spain", Technology and Culture 18 (4), p. 644-650.
  6. ^ Ahmad Y Hassan, Flywheel Effect for a Saqiya.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Donald Routledge Hill, "Engineering", in Roshdi Rashed (ed.), Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 2, pp. 751-795 [776], Routledge, London and New York
  9. ^ Donald Routledge Hill (1996). A history of engineering in classical and medieval times. Routledge. pp. 145–6. ISBN 0-415-15291-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Donners, K.; Waelkens, M.; Deckers, J. (2002), "Water Mills in the Area of Sagalassos: A Disappearing Ancient Technology", Anatolian Studies (British Institute at Ankara) 52: 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, 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, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 371–400, ISBN 90-04-11123-9 

External links[edit]