The History of Rainwater Collection
The long history of rainwater collection, can be traced (in recorded history) as far back as ancient times some 3,000 years ago (850 BC) if not even farther. The need for water is a basic human essential for maintaining life, without it, no civilization could have prospered. Rainwater collection in ancient Constanople is one of the last megalithic structures of its kind. During the dark ages, technologies as advanced as these however seem to have taken a severe decline in the western world, while older less expensive techniques persisted up until the industrial era. With the advance of technology, time proven methods gave way to centralized systems of water collection, with pipes and collective communal systems. If we however, are to learn from our mistakes, we must study history and in this way rediscover the value of rainwater collection.
Rainwater collection is any method that brings and unites into a body or unit of fallen rainwater (surface water) in an organized fashion. On primitive scales this usually means an excavated cistern of some kind or perhaps just a banana leaf that empties into a coconut (not too sustainable). In Egypt for example the army would use the desert to their advantage, because they had secret cashes of rainwater collected throughout the desert in underground cisterns carved out of solid rock, they could stay in remote and undisclosed regions with no fear of any invading armies, with the surrounding desert acting as a deadly fortress. King Mesha of Moab in Jordan is documented from 850 BC as having commanded that cisterns be dugout by every family in the city Qerkhah for themselves.
In the days of the Roman Empire, atrium fed rainwater collection cisterns were common place and to this day an important part of history. In fact, the art of rainwater collection in the Roman Empire achieved great proportions up until the rule of Justiantinius Augustus Caesar and his empress Theodora in the early sixth century AD. The giant underground cistern in today’s Istanbul called Yerebatan Sarayi (Sunken Palace), was used to collect fallen water from the city above in an underground, megalithic and expansive vault with high columns that can be navigated by boat. Yerebatan Sarayi is certainly the last of its kind, as building a dam can prove to be far more inexpensive. Such as is the case with “Sete Quedas” that once integrated the boarder of Brazil and Paraguay, and was the largest waterfall in the world (now a hydroelectric dam).
The island of Malta has evidently a long history of using rainwater collection to sustain its overwhelming population, and in 1610 had its first aqueduct system constructed to improve water distribution from the small amounts found in the countryside to the seaports. But recent solutions are relatively new, as centralized plumbing has improved over time and the need for hygiene more distinct, older solutions for the collection of rainwater found themselves falling into disuse. One major reason for this change in water collection and distribution is due to disease. In Afghanistan, desert cashes exist all over the countryside, but drinking from them without boiling first can be lethal. Istanbul no longer uses Yerebatan Sarayi for drinking as it was easily contaminated by pollutants from the city above, as is a major problem in any urban setting, thus treatment plants were introduced.
As long as water is not a problem, people don’t really seem to care where it comes from or even how it gets in the house, just as long as it is there and useful. This mentality of forgetting as a whole is what must be fought, as it is through the past that we learn to make a better and brighter future, by not repeating the same mistakes as our forefathers. Clean rainwater collection throughout human history has taught us time and time again how this is possible, and also the dangers of doing it wrong. In antiquity, systems were but underground cashes ditches, wells, and cisterns. In Byzantine Constanople, works of art such as the “Sunken Palace” united engineering genius with art to produce megalithic architectural wonders and the constant difficulties associated with hygiene. If the history of rainwater collection tells us anything of value, it is that filtration is the most important key in any harvesting system.