Water Supply and Irrigation

A good water supply was an essential requirement for horticulture, and on this subject there is abundant archaeological material to supplement the information of saints' lives and typika. Particularly in the area of Byzantine Palestine, systematic excavations and surveys at the lavras, monasteries, and hermitages in the Judean desert have uncovered detailed evidence about the systems of channels, cisterns, and rock pools (Figs. 4, 5) that provided water not only for horticulture but for other activities at the monastery, such as laundry, cooking, grinding grain, watering animals, and bathing. Such provisions for a water supply obviated

21 G. Giovanelli, Bio" kai politeia tou oaiou patpo" hmwn Neilou tou Neou (Grottaferrata, 1972), 87.31-33.

22 On terracing, see, e.g., Patrich, Sabas, 82 and 151.

23 I. Tsiknopoullos, Kuppiaka tupika (Leukosia, 1969), chap. 18, p. 88.

3 Terraced gardens at the monastery of Simonopetra, Mount Athos (photo: R. Gothoni)

the necessity to carry water by hand or on donkeyback from a spring, stream, or well.24 In an arid region such as the Judean desert, elaborate waterworks were necessary to make use of every drop of rainwater to supplement the occasional spring or stream. The monks took advantage of natural depressions in the rock or built numerous cisterns to catch and store

24 Y. Hirschfeld, The Judean Desert Monasteries in the Byzantine Period (New Haven, Conn.-London, 1992), 148—49. Hagiographic tradition relates that John of Damascus, when serving a monk in the Egyptian desert, had to carry water from a long distance in the summertime to irrigate the xerokepion. An angel lightened his labors, by helping to carry the water; cf. vita of Kosmas the Hymnographer and John of Damascus, ed. A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, 'AvaleKta lepoaolumi'n.Kfj" Ztaxuologia" (St. Petersburg, 1897), 283.

the winter rains, which were often channeled from roofs and courtyards by gutters and downspouts. The water could then be channeled to different parts of the monastic complex. Alternatively water might be brought from some distance by aqueducts, often simple dug channels (Fig. 6).25 At Mar Saba, almost every hermitage had its own cistern, to provide for the hermit's personal needs and for watering his individual garden plot.26 An additional advantage of the reservoir system was that the silt that accumulated at the bottom of settling tanks furnished fertile soil for the gardens.27 Saints' lives also mention rain barrels (in this case, pithoi) standing next to gardens, presumably to supply water for irrigation.28

As noted above, in the better-watered areas of Greece and Anatolia, monastic founders generally took a good water supply into consideration in the selection of a construction site. Luke the Younger chose a spot "abundant in the purest water" and had only to clear away the brush from the spring to make its flow increase.29 When, however, founders chose arid locations, it became necessary to transport water from some distance or to devise com-

25 Hirschfeld, Desert Monasteries, 148-61; Patrich, Sabas, 54, 61-63, 78, 151. See also E. Damati, "The Irrigation System in the Gardens of the Monastery of St. Martyrius (Ma'ale Adummim)," forthcoming in a supplement to the Journal of Roman Archaeology.

26 Patrich, Sabas, 100, 106-7.

27 Hirschfeld, Desert Monasteries, 159.

28 Synaxarion notice for Gregory of Akritas, in Synaxarium CP, 374.11-13.

5 Cutting for rainwater storage in the rock outside a hermit's kellion above Katounakia on Mount Athos (photo: A. R. Littlewood)

plicated supply channels. The site chosen by the future patriarch Nikephoros, for example, was watered only by rain, which did not soak into the ground but ran off immediately because of the steepness of the slopes. Nikephoros transformed the landscape and "replaced <its> barrenness with a reputation for fruitfulness, <its> aridity with the abundant rains of heaven. <He accomplished this> by enriching <the land> with an abundance of interconnected cisterns branching through the hollow rocks . . . <as a result the spot> imitates faithfully the paradise of God."30

Athanasios of Athos, on the other hand, relied not on rainwater cisterns but on water channeled from distant springs, as his vita describes in some detail:

And since there was a lack of abundant water at the site of the Lavra, he devised a way out of his difficulties and showed his great genius and cleverness. For after traversing many parts of Athos to find an abundant source of water and exerting much effort, he found a lofty and inaccessible site, which had water but was more than 70 stades (ca. 8 miles) distant from the Lavra. And he began to dig from that point, and excavating trenches in the steep and high slopes, and placing pipes in the channels, he transported a stream of water to the monastery from different sources.31

30 VNiceph., 148; trans. Fisher, in Talbot, Defenders of Images, 51—52.

31 VAthan. Ath. (B), chap. 25, p. 152; see also VAthan. Ath. (A), chap. 81, pp. 37-38.

6 Water channel near St.

Catherine's monastery, Mount Sinai (photo: after Aramco World, March-April 1995, 22)

This water was brought inside the monastery for various purposes, being channeled past the cells. It was also directed to two mills and used to water the fruit trees and irrigate the gardens (khPoi). Aqueducts were used to supply cisterns at other Athonite monasteries as well, such as Stavroniketa (Fig. 7) and Simonopetra (Fig. 3).32

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