Qantara Qantara


  • Name : Noria
  • Place : Alcantarilla, Murcia
  • Construction date/period : 15th century
  • Construction materials : Iron, steel, wood, brick
  • Dimensions : Diameter: 11 m, Height: 1.90 m
  • Restoration :

    The wheel that can be seen today is the result of the last great restoration in 1956.

The Alcantarilla Noria was built by the Christians in the 15th century. Basilio Pavon wrote however that “ In the same manner as the great waterwheels of Hama and Hadita on the Orontes and Euphrates rivers, which themselves are more or less accurate copies of the ancient Arab norias, the waterwheels found this century on the rivers and canals of the cultivated plain have their origins in the Islamic na’ura”. The Alcantarilla Noria is one of the numerous waterwheels that must have existed in al-Andalus, most of which have since disappeared, some comparatively recently. This particular wheel is not on a river however; it is turned by the waters of the Barredas irrigation canal.

The present-day noria is made up of two wheels joined together by rectangular hollow paddles, which house 72 buckets with three on each paddle. The open end of the buckets faces the outside. Each wheel is re-enforced by 36 spokes. The positioning of the crossbars creates a double concentric polygonal ring on each side. The current pushes against the 24 paddles, making the wheel turn. The wheel turns around a horizontal, circular, iron axle, which is about 40 cm in diameter and the spokes are centred on this. The extremities of the axle are held in position by circular steel slots, which are embedded in thick brick walls, topped by lancet arches. Runoffs transport the water poured from the buckets from the tops of the arches. The bed of the water channel is 7.10 m below the surface. An arcade of semi-circular arches conveys the water towards the south.

The presence of the waterwheel in al-Andalus dates from the 9th or 10th century. To find the origins of this mechanism one has took look to the east. When the water volume in the irrigation canal was not sufficient to turn the wheel, all that needed to be done was to build a dam upstream in order to increase the flow. Certain writers like al-Muqaddasi at the beginning of the 11th century, speak of numerous norias in Iran on the river Ahwaz. In al-Andalus the most important waterwheels were on the river Tagus in Toledo and the Guadalquivir in Cordoba, which is also known as the Albolafia (still in existence with a mill and dam). There is also a tradition of waterwheels in North Africa. In his work “Ihata”, Ibn al-Khatib writes that the “first dawlab (wheel) that existed in Fes at his time, was built by the Spanish Muslim Muhammad for the Marinid sultan Abu Yusef Ya’qub al-Mansur – its diameter was considerable and it was equipped with numerous buckets”.

The Murcia region is known for its rich fertile plain, which owes much to its Arab heritage. During the Middle Ages and even today, waterwheels are found scattered all over the Iberian Peninsula. According to Pavon Maldonaldo, Muslim Spain, like medieval Christian rural Spain, used numerous hydraulic devices, sometimes in private, sometimes in public ownership, in order to furnish gardens and bathhouses with water. In his “collection concerning the theory and practice of useful procedures” in 1206, al-Jazari gives a description of how to build a small noria, such as existed at Damascus. Many authors have written describing the Murcia region and its norias: al-Himyari notes that the plains of Murcia and Lorca possessed countless wheels; al-Saqundi praises Murcia for its plentiful gardens and norias, to be found on its waterways. We also know of examples of drawings of norias, such as in the work of Bayad and Riyad, produced in Andalusia[1] in the 13th century.


[1] Biblioteca Apostólica Vaticana, inv. Vat. Ar. Ris. 368.


Pavón Maldonado, B., Tratado d’agricultura hispano-musulmana. I. Agua, Madrid : CSIC, 1990, p. 279-294.

Torres Balbás, L., « Las norias fluviales en España », in Obra dispersa, Crónica Arqueológica de la España musulmana, VI, p. 209-222.


Abderramán, C. ; López, M., El enigma del agua en Al-Andalus, Madrid, 1994.

Caro Baroja, J., « Norias, azudas, aceñas », in Tecnología Popular Española, Madrid, 1983.

Colin, G.S., « La noria marocaine et les machines hydrauliques dans le monde arabe », in Hesperis, XIV (1932), p. 22-60.

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