Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Felaj

Ancient engineering skills are something that surprises our minds since during that period heavy machinery and other forms of equipment we have today weren’t available. One of such systems that requires mention is the Felaj system of irrigation in Oman. The Felaj system is seen across Oman and some parts of Iran and Iraq and these systems have a history of more than 3000 years. The system known as Felaj (p. Aflaj) was built for extensive irrigation needs of this region since the region is a semi-arid terrain and rainfall is scarce. This system is an engineering marvel of ancient Arabia.

The system is actually a network of channels that pass through an entire village supplying water from a hidden source somewhere at the foot of the mountains.It acts as arteries of water that supplies the entire region. The system has a mother well from which water is channeled into the villages and water can be used from these small networks of the Felaj system. The Felaj are seen all over Oman and have different varieties. In Iran it is called Qanat and is of slightly a different form having a large mother well and a number of vertical shafts. The Omani Felaj system is of ancient origin dating back to as early as 2500 B.C.

This system can provide water across large areas and some of the Felaj extend upto 12 Kms or more. The water supply increases with rain and may be scarce during intense summer but it provides water almost all year round. These Aflaj are found in almost every part of Oman and there are about 3000 of such systems at present.The Aflaj system has been included in the world Heritage sites by UNESCO.

The photos show an old Felaj in the village of Imty which has gone dry. This system consists of a source well hidden from view at the foot of the mountains bordering the village. The water is carried from there through underground channel of the felaj and flows into the village. The felaj consists of small wells in to which the water is fed. These wells are about 10-12 metres in depth and the water flows through it and emerges out from another well from at the other side of the village about 100metres away. The system then runs across other fields and houses in the village. The water flows in the well (gharraq) and reaches another one and flows out through it (fallah). The entire artery is hidden from view and lies beneath the land.

Another interesting fact is the material used in the construction of this sophisticated network of water channels. The felaj is strengthened and cemented with a material known as Surookh, which could be called ancient cement. The material is made from the wood of a tree which is burnt to ashes and used for cementing the Felaj. The material is strong and still remains as it is without much damage.

The engineering and science used in these systems make us think about the expertise that the ancient generations had and this system is a remarkable asset to the Omani History.

sources: My travels to the A'Dakhiliyah region
Photos from the Wilayat of Izki