My next goal, after Palmyra, was to see the 12th century Crac des Chevaliers between Homs and Tartus on the coast. Homs does not have much choice of accomodations so I came directly to Hama which is an attractive town halfway between Damascus and Aleppo.
This is the City Hall.
The clock tower, next to the City Hall, marks the centre of Hama. I stayed in the nearby Cairo hotel where I had a large room with bath for only 7 dollars.
It was raining when I got to Hama but I took pictures of the nearby market anyway.
I did not see any other strangers in Hama a week before the onset of the war on Iraq.
I was shocked by the idea of an illegal American aggression but the people here went about their business normally and did not appear upset by what was obviously going to happen.
This aparent calm surprised me at first until I realised that I was expecting more from "civilised" America than they were after seeing US support for Israeli excesses in the region. The sight of a rattlesnake frightens but it does not shock, everyone expects rattlesnakes to strike.
Anyway, everyone was quite nice to me. This merchant and his sons gladly posed for me.
The Orontes river, whose source is near Baalbek in Lebanon, traverses Hama, flows north to Antakya in Turkey and then west into the Mediterranean. It irrigates much of Syria's fertile plains.
The first of these giant water wheels, or norias, were built by the Romans. Others were added later and almost 100 are still carefully maintained after centuries of use to irrigate fields around the Orontes.
Norias have names and personalities. These two, in the city centre, are called Al-Jisriyye and Al-Mamouriyye.
Here is another view of Al-Mamouriyye. The huge wooden axles groan and moan continuously as they turn in their wooden bearings. Their perpetual song adds a unique charm to the city.
I saw similar wheels in Lijiang China in 2000.
Al-Jisriyye in the town centre is surrounded by restaurants that have selected choice spots from which to see and hear the norias.
Hama had suffered flooding shortly before my passage and some of the norias had been damaged like the two on the left in this group called "The Four Norias of Bechriyyat" located upstream of the city.
It was too far to walk in the rain so I hired a driver to show me some of the norias around town and to take me to the "Crac des Chevaliers".
I did not find out the name of this one, just across the river from the An-Nouri mosque.
The great An-Nouri mosque was built for Nur al-Din, the uncle of the great Saladin. The three norias next to it are called Al-Kaylaniyya, Al-Sahuniyya and Al-Jabariyya.
Finally, here is the mother of all norias, the big 27 metre Al-Mohammediyya built downstream from the city in 1361.