Necklaces of stone

Flowing exuberantly without surcease, water once filled these simple yet dignified monuments that conveyed life from water towers and reservoirs to fountains and distribution centers throughout the city.

Life without water is unthinkable, and we are thinking a lot more about that today. For we all know very well that while we can survive for weeks without food, without water we will perish in a matter of days. The spread of drought as a result of global warming and the picture that is emerging today have made water a permanent item on the agenda. But water and ways of accessing it have always been a cause of vital concern.

Almost all settlements from the earliest times have been located near or at the edge of a source of water. Cities founded slightly farther from water devised various methods of bringing this vital, crystal-clear liquid to their homes. As one of the key elements of such waterways, aqueducts assumed the important function of supplying man's water needs from the dawn history right up to our own day. Lying across river valleys like an elegant necklace, these stone structures with their monumental architecture and ongoing vital function continue to bring life to Anatolia as they grace its landscape.

Aqueducts are defined as structures in the form of bridges with numerous apertures in them that convey water from one location to another at the same elevation and, by maintaining the water flowing through the channels at a fixed level, enable it to traverse valleys. Although the earliest examples of such structures date back to Mesopotamia and Egypt in the third millennium B.C., it was the Romans who first succeeded in building aqueducts that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Built to carry water to the cities through wide, often steep valleys, the aqueducts constructed in the Roman period exhibit a characteristic style of architecture. So much so that it became part and parcel of the urban landscape and came to be used as well in fountains, in monumental gates at the entrances to cities and in the facades of buildings. The same tradition continued in Turkey in the Byzantine and Ottoman periods with the restoration of existing aqueducts and the construction of new ones.

One of the structures most often sought by archaeologists in their excavations, aqueducts are encountered frequently in the ruins of most of the ancient cities of Anatolia. These structures, which are usually located immediately outside the settlement, are constructed with either a single arch or a series of connected arches depending on the terrain. The water channels and system of arches in the Cilician region especially remain standing today and literally dazzle the eyes. A vital necessity owing to the region's arid climate, the Rough Cilicia water network was used for years to convey the fertile waters of the Limonlu River to the cities of Cilicia. This system, which traversed the steep valleys with aqueducts which were connected to each other by canals, brought life to cities such as Korasion (Narlıkuyu), Korykos (Kızkalesi), Eliussa Sebaste (Ayaş), Neapolis (Kanlıdivane) and Limos over a distance of forty kilometers from Limonlu to Kızkalesi. 

Among the ancient aqueducts in Turkey, a special place must be accorded to Patara-Delikkemer. Made by drilling through giant rocks and then dovetailing them, this aqueduct constitutes a prime example of human creativity. Designed as interlocking masculine and feminine pairs, these massive stone blocks became virtually welded together in time due to the effect of the calcium-rich water flowing through them so that they were eventually leakproof. Thanks to a pressure system, the water, which was conveyed through canals from distant  sources, easily traversed the higher elevations through an aqueduct. The design of this waterway by joining together colossal stones worked with precision and care is awesome in view of the technology that was available at the time. The large stones with a hole in the center that have tumbled down from the Delikkemer aqueduct have been transformed now into natural vases bursting with wild flowers. The last link in this system that carried water on a 25-kilometer journey from Akbel to Patara sits over the monumental gate built in memory of Mettius Modestus. Delikkemer's sister city Laodikea, whose ruins lie near Denizli, implemented the same system with one difference: the majestic monument, which is similar in structure, same form, this time does not cross the valley as an aqueduct-bridge like Delikkemer but rather in the form of a natural pipe laid on the ground and consisting of interlocking stones.

The longest of the ancient aqueducts in Turkey is that near the ruins of Issos in Antakya province, a section of which is still used today to irrigate greenhouses and farmland. It retains all its splendor even though part of it is now buried  under the ground. Another good example of the interconnected water networks complemented by arches and aqueducts can be found at Aspendos, famed for its magnificent theater. A portion of the aqueduct, which was built in the traditional style directly behind the theater, is striking for its triangular shape which rises to a sharp peak.

The ancient and post-Roman aqueducts of Istanbul are worthy of a paragraph unto themselves. Some of them remain standing, most in excellent condition. Some, such as the Bozdoğan (Valens), Ma'zulkemer, Karakemer, and Turunçluk in the city center, date to the Roman period. Repaired but not rebuilt during the Byzantine period, the Istanbul water network functioned smoothly until the eleventh century. The Ottoman rulers elected to rebuild the system, which in the interim had become unusable due to wars and natural disasters. The old Roman waterway that conveyed water to Istanbul from the Belgrade Forest was repaired by the architect Sinan at the behest of Suleiman the Magnificent and reintroduced into service as the Kırkçeşme or 'Forty Fountains' supply system. Five structures in this system, which is 54 kilometers long in total with 33 arches, are in the nature of architectural monuments for their unique style.  

At 102 meters in length and 16.4 meters in height, the two-story Pasha Aqueduct (Balıkzade)  on the road from Kemerburgaz to the Belgrade Forest is only partially visible through a dense growth of trees. The network's longest aqueduct, the 711-meter long, 25-meter high Uzunkemer, again two-story, and the 408-meter long, 35-meter high Kovuk Aqueduct (Kırık) are located in the center of Kemerburgaz. The latter, whose first section is one-story and second section three-story, is noteworthy for its shape which curves at a 90-degree angle. Another two-story aqueduct is the lovely 65-meter long, 34.5-meter high Güzelce Aqueduct (Gözlüce) near the village of Cebeci. But the most praiseworthy aqueduct of all is the Mağlova aqueduct, a testimony to Sinan's finest period. Two-story like its counterparts, this colossal 258-meter-long, 36-meter-high structure is acknowledged to be the world's most beautiful aqueduct. Situated at one end of the Alibeyköy Dam Reservoir with its eight large and eight small arches, Mağlova virtually poses for photographers half submerged by water in the wet winter months. Other noteworthy aqueducts are Balıklıkemer (125 meters), Karakemer (63 meters), Ayvad (195 meters),  Kurt (305 meters) and the Valide Aqueduct (39 meters).

Another masterpiece by Sinan is the 54-kilometer-long waterduct between Edirne and Taşlımüsellim. The longest section of the system is the 105-meter-long Yedigöz aqueduct with its twelve simple arches. Another of the lovely examples from Anatolia in this period is the İncekaya aqueduct, which joins the two sides of Tokatlı canyon at Safranbolu. Built by Grand Vizier İzzet Mehmet Pasha, this aqueduct is 116 meters long. In this water supply system, which boasts some of the most magnificent examples of Mimar Sinan's genius, the water's long journey started by being conveyed first to reservoirs and then to water towers and siphons by means of canals and aqueducts,  ending at the city's houses and fountains.

Water is indispensable for all living creatures from their first day of life on this small blue planet on which we live. And aqueducts represent the simple and dignified stance of stone, as if in defiance of water which demands continuously to flow. We may have more modern means of getting water nowadays, but aqueducts will always have a nostalgic place in our lives.