How did we manage the water more than 2000 years ago?

Climate change is mobilizing the world currently to salvage the remaining of the water resources. However, the need to overcome drought and agricultural difficulties has emerged in the desert areas of northern Arabia and the Southern Levant. Societies such as the Nabataeans were able to address this issue through sophisticated hydraulic technologies, solutions nowadays unmatched.

Water being one of the most precious commodities in the desert, meager and localized precipitation in the area near Wadi Musa or around Amman and water flowing from the mountains nearby enticed the Nabataeans to harness and collect water for their own purposes. They were able to improve water collection, transport and storage provision and to develop advanced agriculture and soil conservation. Green before their time, the Nabataeans conceived solutions through the use of local materials and they also studied the local topography and availability of water resources.

Beneath the clusters of carved rocks lies a sophisticated system of pipelines, wells, cisterns, runnels and aqueducts collecting and storing rainwater. The Nabataeans also supported their constructions by the development of waterproof cement, which allowed them to minimize leakages and safeguard water quality. The reservoir water storage capacity was monitored and maintained through a simple pipeline system, and water was purified using particle-settling basins.

To protect their valuable water reservoirs, the Nabataeans erected stone walls and pillars to shade the collected water and to prevent evaporation, pollution and infestation. Their ingenious methods in water collection allowed them to manage their structure and shift to a more settled agriculture economy. Their populated areas thrived by developing of water collection systems and sustaining dry agriculture.

Facing current challenges related to drought and water pollution, we might as well benefit from the Nabataeans’ ancient wisdom and follow suit in harnessing, maintaining, and utilizing available water sources.


Aquaduct channel


Nabataeans reservoir in ancient Hawara


Cistern in the Nabataean city of Little Petra


About tOD

Active since 2010, the architecture lab theOtherDada defends an alternative position towards the current practice of sustainability through exploration of the context and medium, invoking new relationships between climate, landscape, and inhabitants. Informed by our research into biomimicry, we aim to connect to the natural ecosystems of sites to understand and consequently devise new potential living habitats. theOtherDada works within a collaborative process between architects, scientists, botanists, artists, economists and craftsmen.

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