Great Inventions of the 19th Century
Water: The fount of all life
Huge irrigation projects were initiated as a response to demographic pressure. Irrigation was an attempt to overcome environmental constraints.
Efficient irrigation systems were crucial for the Arab and Ottoman world through the centuries in places where the rainfall was insufficient to support agriculture or where intensive agriculture was practised to meet the increasing demand for food. Traditionally, the Ottoman Empire had controlled and recorded the use of water for irrigation, but during the 19th century the increasing needs of agriculture determined the introduction of new irrigation systems, although some traditional irrigation methods were still in use during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Colonial propaganda also used irrigation works built by the colonial powers to show the “benefits” of colonisation in the occupied countries. Huge irrigation projects were also dictated by the intensification of agricultural crops (cotton in Egypt and grapes in Algeria) and the need to expand cultivatable land. In Egypt, for example, 500,000ha of previously uncultivated land had become usable through irrigation projects under Ismail Pasha.
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Water: The fount of all life

Water distribution
Différentes machines hydrauliques dont on se sert en Egypte pour arroser les terres. La première manière est par le moyen des chapelets qui donnent de l'eau à la campagne quand elle en a besoin. La partie de la digue

Illustrations de Voyage d'Egypte et de Nubie


National Library of France, Paris, France

When, at the end of the 18th century, the growing interest of French intellectuals in the “Orient” brought them to Egypt, their main aim was to enrich their knowledge of antiquity. But some of them started to look at aspects of local life and activities. These drawings are a precious record of the traditional hydraulic machines used in Egypt for irrigation.

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Water: The fount of all life