International Conference on Rain Water Cistern Systems
USA - June 1982
1: History Of Cisterns
Present and Past Development
of Catchment Areas in the Mediterranean Coastal Desert of Egypt
Desert Institute, Egypt
The Mediterranean Coastal Desert of Egypt comprises a narrow zone having an
east-west length of about 1,000 km and a north-south width of about 20 km. This
coastal desert, located between the Cyrenaican Massif (+700 m) to the west and
the Negev-Lebanon Massif (+2 000 m) to the east, occupies a portion of the great
Sahara Desert of Africa and extends northward to the Mediterranean Sea (Fig. 1).
The climate of this coastal desert differs from the inland desert areas to the
south, and is characterized by winter rainfall of 150 to 300 mm frequent and comparatively
high periods of humidity, and small diurnal temperature variations.
This paper deals with the western portion of the coastal area, which is historically
known as the Mareotis District. The district extends westward to the Libyan border
and was once an area of prosperous cultivation. But by the 10th century, the area
gradually declined and changed into an almost desert tract. As discussed by Kassas
(1972), it is "unlikely that there have been major climatic changes during
the last 2000 years that could have caused the deterioration of this area."
Facts obtained from the work carried out in connection with the dating of groundwater
using carbon 14 techniques (Shata et al. 1962) support this conclusion and show
that the last rainy interval coincided with the "Late Wurme" some 7000
years before. The coastal area "must have depended for its cultivation on
dry farming that included methods of water management and conservation."
In this paper on the development of catchment areas, emphasis will be given
to the following tow methods used since Roman times in the Mediterranean Coastal
Desert area: (1) cisterns and (2) Karms or vineyards. Before describing the details
of such systems based on personal experiences and on information available in
the literature (Hume and Hughes 1921; De Cosson 1935; Shafie 1952; Paver and Pretorius
1954; Murray 1955; Kassas 1972), the physiographic features and the water resources
of the area will be discussed.
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