Archive for August, 2012

8-30-12 The Pre-Christian World and the Arid West

Published by under Interplay










Pont du Gard, 1st Century, southern France

Beginning in 312 B.C.E., eleven aqueducts quenched thirst, set fountains tinkling, filled the city with scent of flower and herb, turning Rome into “the queen of waters”. The 9 mile Aqua Appia, built in 312 B.C.E., was the first. It carried 75 thousand cubic meters of water per day. It was followed by the Aqua Virgo, Claudia, Anio Novus, until 1.13 million cubic meters of water per day flowed into the city each day.

Before the Christian era, busy building an empire, the Roman Emperor Augustus erected the cascading arches of the Pont du Gard in what is now southern France. The bridge, over the river Gard, is 900 feet long and 160 feet high. The entire aqueduct was 30 miles long when it supplied Nimes with water. On its first level it carried a road and at the top of the third level, a water conduit 6 feet high and 4 feet wide with a gradient of 0.4 per cent. The three levels were built in dressed stone without mortar and the projecting blocks supported the scaffolding during construction.

Much earlier, around 1400 B.C.E., Mid-Eastern mechanical engineers from Sumer and Assyria used the pulley to draw water into large scale irrigation systems. Vertical maintenance shafts dotted the Persian landscape going down 300 feet to the underground canals where natural water was safe from evaporation.

In the new world before the Conquest, the terrace farming of the Inca empire relied on irrigation. The Peruvian natives, potatoes and maize, were cultivated, and the intoxicating herb, coca, which we have transformed into the scandalous cocaine. Through terraces and canals and aqueducts, water ran down the great ravines to make the desert flower.

Here, in the arid West we became poor before we became grand. There are no cascading arches for us. No terraces filled with fruit and flower. Our hills are brown. Our water wasted. We fight over tiny fractions of flow.  It is to Las Vegas with its flamboyant kitsch we go for tinkling fountains and a last luxuriating soak in our almost gone sweet, pure water.




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