Water supply in medieval middle eastern cities: the case of Cairo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In spite of its location on the Nile bank, medieval Cairo suffered from serious problems of water supply because of its topography and the Nile regime that necessitated water storing. Direct canalization was not adopted to channel the Nile to inhabited quarters, either on the riverside or inland because of the dangers entailed in an uncontrolled water race during the Nile inundation. The Nile water was safely conveyed inland in canals, dammed by dikes at their mouths on the Nile before the inundation, and opened when the water level reached sixteen arms. Aqueducts and conduits carried the water from the canals to inland open reservoirs, or artificial lakes, around all of which grew residential quarters. The lake waters were transferred to cisterns and above ground tanks that were used as closed water reservoirs before distribution in the residential quarters of Cairo. Scattered in central sites within the quarters, there were the big wells and basins that received water from outside the quarter for distribution to the wells located near the houses, baths and mosque courtyards. The quarters' wells and tanks usually had a common water source and the houses' wells were interconnected by a labyrinth of underground conduits. Residences of the elite and bourgeoisie were equipped with water facilities as befitted their status. The upper middle class often rented qā‘as, exclusive residential units located on the ground floor, equipped with water systems. The lower socio-economic classes, which constituted the majority of the population, lived in standard units in residential complexes that were not equipped with running water but only with water jars. The general public regularly visited public baths for both personal hygiene and leisure, consumed commercially prepared food in the market and sent their clothes for laundering and pressing in the market.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-205
Number of pages27
JournalAl-Masaq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Artificial lakes
  • Basins
  • Canals
  • Inundation
  • Jars
  • Open reservoirs
  • Tanks
  • Well

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Water supply in medieval middle eastern cities: the case of Cairo'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this