My Lonely Planet described the atrocities of 1982 when the military of the Assad regime brutally crushed a public uprising that emerged out of Syria’s fourth largest city, Hama. Over 25,000 were estimated to have perished in the conflict. How could such an awful thing have happened in the modern era?
That history has repeated itself is another tragedy, with Hama and nearby Homs providing the catalyst that started the 2011 civil war.
My 2009 visit as an enthralled traveller saw me in Hama as a base to see nearby Krak des Chevaliers (look out for a future post) and to witness the unique norias that were scattered about the city.
So what are norias? They are huge wooden wheels that were built to draw water from the River Orontes for irrigating farmland. It is claimed that they date back to 1100 BC and although no longer serving their original purpose, up until the civil war they acted as a touristic curiosity attraction.
At the time I visited there were seventeen dotted along the river. They used to be worked manually by farmhands, but now lay idle.
They did however make a partial turn every now and again in the wind, accompanied by an eerie creaking noise as the ancient wood strained. I imagined that they would have been pretty deafening when in full swing.
This was borne out when Hamish and I strolled out to a restaurant on the edge of town that sat in the partial shadow of one of the giant structures. A group of Syrians were eating there and they persuaded the waiting staff to climb a small fence, climb some steps and turn the adjacent noria wheel for the enjoyment of the diners.
What a din it made from the straining wood and metal, plus the gushing water that spouted from the top of the contraption, drawn by the motion of the wheel.
Fascinating. I only hope that at least some are still standing.