As early as the 12th century, the development of water fountain technology in what is now known as Iraq, was being pursued by engineers with vigor and inventiveness. The fountains of the Greeks and Romans were mostly dramatic in nature and secondarily were functional. The Middle Eastern focus, by contrast, was centered on fountains’ practical application, specifically on the development and advancement of fountain machinery that replicated human activity.
One such described invention was called the Peacock Fountain which used technology similar to a modern toilet: when a plug was pulled from the peacock’s tail, dirty water emptied into the fountain base and clean water entered the basin; meanwhile, rising water in the base caused a float device to activate a mechanical servant figurine to come out from behind a door carrying soap; as the rinse water was used and flushed back into the base, causing the float to rise again and activating another figure that appeared offering a towel.
This clever synthesis of engineering and artistry, of course, was reserved for the very wealthy. Teams of fountain engineers and artisans were commissioned by those with the wherewithal for the specific purpose of developing a desired application.
One of the best known engineers was a man we know as Al-Jazari. He was likely named after the area where he was born, al-Jazira, which was the Arabic name for a territory know known as northern Iraq. Just about all that is known of him comes from his “Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices,” in which he describes his amazing work. More of a craftsman and engineer than an inventor, he none-the-less produced inventions by a laborious trial and error process that provided the foundation for the development of mechanisms in use to this day.
His main contribution to fountain technology was the invention of water-raising machines, thus allowing fountain deployment in areas not practical for using the old gravity fed method. Bringing up water from the ground had traditionally been a very labor-intensive task and Al-Jazari was the first to develop a machine utilizing a suction piston that could raise water over 50 feet into a system of connected pipes.
One of his machines, incorporating a scoop wheel driven by a gear system with attached jars that emptied water into channels, was the basis of a water system in 13th century Damascus that supplied the mosques with water drawn from a local lake. In Islam, a fountain is the name of the place in the Mosque where worshippers can wash before Prayer.
The culture also placed importance on aesthetic appearance and the use of light and texture to influence the emotional reaction to a setting. Geometrically designed enclosed gardens were developed in Persia (modern Iran) with the emphasis on creating a relaxing atmosphere. Shapes and textures were specifically chosen for their ability to direct sunlight.
In the 16th century, elaborate fountain displays were garden features of the Mughal gardens of India. These were a group of gardens built by the Mughals in the Islamic style of architecture, and this style was influenced by Persian gardens. One main difference or addition was the significant use of rectilinear layouts within the walled enclosures. Some of the typical features included pools, fountains, and canals within these enclosed gardens. Similar-style gardens with water features were designed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So, contributions to our modern fountains have been drawn from sources around the world over many centuries and implemented cumulatively as a synthesis of need, resources and available local talent. The water fountains in our homes and gardens today are the descendants of all these early fountains in mechanics and design. So, when creating your own water fountain environment, let your own creativity, personality, preferences, and resources be your guide.
In the future our natural human affinity for water as a resource beyond life maintenance and continued technological development will likely continue to allow us to develop fountain use & placement options we may now only imagine.
Richard Christy is a retired psychotherapist. Graduating with an MSW from the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, Jane Addams Graduate School of Social Work & was licensed & in private practice in CA, WA & NM between 1980 & 2006, specializing in the treatment of traumatic stress disorders in children, adolescents and adults. He now lives with his wife, Lauren, in New Mexico where he travels & pursues his internet-based businesses and indulges in his passion — water fountains. A fountain owner for over 25 years, his current mission is to place a water fountain in every home. For more details on his passion visit http://outdoor-water-fountain-freestanding.totalwarehouse.com/