The qanat, a thousand-year old technique to transport water

The qanat, a thousand year old technique to transport waterThe Persian civilization was an incredibly rich and influent culture. It managed to attract some of the best thinkers of the time, which allowed it to grow as a nation, building important cities such as Susa or Persepolis.

A great deal of its success came from its excellent water management, both in the city and the villages, especially taking into account that a big part of its Empire spread through semi-desert or desert areas hit by droughts and high temperatures.

One of its best inventions, along with ice wells, were the qanat, a subterranean infrastructure that gathered and channeled the aquifer and valley’s rain water, transporting it into the cities and irrigated lands. Let’s see how this interesting system, today considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, works.

    A system of dwells and tunnels

    The qanat, a thousand year old technique to transport waterThe technique of the qanats was developed in Persia in the first century B.C., extending afterwards to other arid countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Libya, the Middle East and Afghanistan’s Western region.

    First, a main dwell was dug in a hill, until subterranean waters were found. Then, an almost horizontal tunnel was built, from the hill up to the water source. The tunnel had a channel and a slight slope that ensured the transportation of water to the desired place. The longest the qanat, the gentlest the slope.

    Apart from the main dwell, other vertical dwells would be built all along the qanat. Its aim was to ensure the water’s ventilation, management, rationing and an escape routes when the tunnel needed to be emptied. Thanks to its depth, the qanat managed to gather the water and to avoid its evaporation. Damns could also be built to hold or accumulate its flow.

    The qanat, a thousand year old technique to transport water The qanat, a thousand year old technique to transport waterInside the qanat, there were also places accommodated for the workers to rest, water tanks and water-powered mills. As the water was passed through the earth, its flow was clean and potable, which meant it was suitable for human consumption and irrigation purposes. At the end of the qanat, a building managed the obtained water, which could also be driven towards private channels.

    The Persian government was obliged to build the qanat, which transported the water from the mountains into the cities, towards the baths and public tanks. This could, then, be extended by private means.

    Public tanks, known as Ab Anbar, were another wonderful engineering invention, as they included a system to capture air and cool the water, something particularly important in the dessert.

    The most interesting thing of all is that this thousand-year old system is still working and allowing an equitable and sustainable distribution of water.

    Source: La voz del Muro (in Spanish)

    News | Download this page in PDF format

    Join our community

    If you agree with Med-O-Med’s principles, share our goals, and want to join our community, you only need to fill in a simple form: click on REGISTER, at the top of the page to apply for membership. It is free, and will allow you to access exclusive content and share projects and ideas with other carefully vetted individuals and institutions. Members can also create their own blogs and contribute articles and academic research. Membership is subjected to approval by Med-O-Med’s admissions commitee.


    MED-O-MED aspires to making the development of Islamic countries in these regions compatible with the preservation of their environment and heritage. It aims to set up projects involving maximum participation by regional social and public agents, with total respect for genetic sovereignty and the cultural identity of the local populations, all within an inter-cultural and a multi-disciplinary approach.

    Countries »

    This section, which will continue to grow as more research and projects are carried out in the future, contains practical information about Med-O-Med’s lines of work and the countries in the Mediterranean and the Middle East where the program develops its activities.


    Our library is a live repository where you can find scientific research and publications.