Water: The fount of all life
Although often associated with the desert, the Arab and Ottoman world had a deep cultural connection to water. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, those territories included agricultural countries, hence the importance of water for irrigation, but it was also important as a communication route and for hygiene and religious purity. Irrigation and public use of water had for centuries been organised and distributed using technologies that varied from country to country. At the beginning of the 19th century, Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha in Egypt inaugurated the construction of works to improve agricultural production and export. In the following decades, across the Ottoman Empire, dams and public hydraulic works were built using European expertise and know-how. The Arab and Ottoman world was exporting raw materials to Europe, increasing its dependence on the great powers. Reforms and public works were a result of the autonomous initiative of sultans, pashas and khedives, but the long-term consequences were controversial.
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
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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.