Résumé de F. BLOCH
The use of water in early Islamic times. The example of Jabal Says
DAI Damas – ALLEMAGNE
Type de contribution : communication courte
In the arid region of basaltic landscape of south-eastern Syria (the “black desert”), at the foot of the volcanic peak Jabal Says, the remains of some 50 buildings or clusters of buildings are preserved dating to the 1st millennium AD. In the early 1960s the layout of this settlement was exposed in excavation by the German Archaeological Institute. The analysis of the architectural evidence and the finds recovered during the fieldwork revealed that the majority of the structures could be dated to two successive building phases in the 1st part of the 8th century, i.e. the Umayyad period. Furthermore, a late Roman former settlement could be defined.
A castle-like building (qasr) dominated the early Islamic settlement. Just about 100 meters to the east of it a bath house was exposed. In its structural conception it is comparable to other bath houses of the same period, best known by the Jordanian examples of Qusayr Amra and Hammam as-Sarah. Just as it is the case in these structures, also in Jabal Says we find the typical arrangement of three successive small bathing rooms of increasing room-temperatures preceded by a larger hall. This Apodyterium of antique terminology has occasionally been referred to as having fulfilled representative-ceremonial purposes in early Islamic times. In the case of Jabal Says, this formal character is less clear. But the room is executed as tunnel-vaulted rectangular hall with a semicircular apse on its northern narrow side, which would counter a purely utilitarian function.
Within the scope of the Balnéorient conference the Hammâm-complex of Jabal Says will be presented for the first time, with special regard to the actual operation and functioning of the building. As no natural spring was available to serve the bath house, water was piped from a groundwater well to the complex. This well is located some 170 meters to the north of the bath in the area of a so called ‘mudpan’. What remains to be solved is the precise technical means through which the water was lifted into the pipeline. In comparable places a winding installation of the sâqiyya-type is attested. This ancient technique seems to undergo a kind of revival in early Islamic times.
The environmental conditions at the site of Jabal Says were decisive for the technical operation of the bath house. In a so called caldera, a depression of volcanic origin southeast of the crater, surface runoff water regularly collects after the winter rains, forming a ‘mudpan’, i.e. a shallow seasonal lake holding water for some time into the dry season. This local water resource in a predominantly dry region was associated with the site already in the lexicographical works of mediaeval historians and it is eminent for our understanding of the building activities in late antique and early Islamic times. The hydrographical circumstances described, i.e. the temporary flooding of the well-area, seems to cut across the usage of a sâqiyya-system as water-lifting device for the local bath house, as this is usually driven by draught animals moving on a circular track.
An answer to these questions of function and functioning should make it possible to relate the bath of Jabal Says to the large and already extensively studied series of ancient and medieval baths in Bilad al-Sham.