Adriana de Miranda (Università Ca' Foscari Venezia)


From 9:00
to 13:45
From 9:00
to 13:45

Course description
Water is of greatest importance for life and culture in the Mediterranean. Water fulfils a myriad of mankind’s needs, from physical to microclimatic ones, to symbolism, to myth. In ancient times, and up the present, man has had to confront the problem of planning, controlling and using hydric resources.
The course sets out to provide an overview of different historical types of water structures which developed in the Mediterranean basin, regarding the aesthetic and psychological potential of water and of water-carrying structures.
An initial emphasis is on investigating the period from the Roman-Byzantine to the early Muslim age, when, with the advent of Islamic technology, we assist to a significative progress in the development of water structures. Through the centuries the structures exhibit a clear development, from simple to more complex forms of construction and show a considerable amount of variation.
The theoretical basis of the investigation is grounded on understanding that every element of this water history is part of an integrated system. This system includes hydrological elements such as springs, streams, floods and rainwater, as well as hydraulic elements such as baths, aqueducts, wells, water-wheels, fountains, cisterns and hydraulic automata.
The course is related to a survey of the history of Landscape Architecture in the Mediterranean, with an overview of the hydraulic systems in terms of artistic features and sustainability, to arrive to analyze significant examples of historical water typologies in Near East, Spain, Maghreb and Italy, from the seventh to the fourteenth centuries. Water-wheels, aqueducts, baths, fountains and hydraulic automata are analyzed in terms of aesthetic feature as well as in terms of sophisticated technology and relationship with the surrounding environment, highlighting the role that these water devices have played over the centuries. For each typology some significant examples are presented. The inventions of hydraulic automata include the studies done by the Venetian scientists in the fifteenth century, which are shown in connection with those by the Islamic inventors.
The course purpose is to provide a historical, technical and iconographical study of the water devices to have a picture of the application of such systems and allow an understanding of the development and evolution of these water-structures.
Particular attention is given to the concept of clean technology related to some devices analyzed, in connection with the surrounding environments, and with an eventual re-employment of some systems for their original purposes.

Virtual component
An introductory online class is done before program at VIU, to present content and scope of the course. A digital presentation is expected to be prepared by students during the course, and discussed in class after the program at VIU. It will be considered as a part of the final exam.

Expected learning outcomes
The course allows students to acquire a fundamental knowledge in history of Landscape Art, with a focus on the historical water typologies widespread in the Mediterranean and develop the necessary skills to familiarize with the artistic production. Students are expected to recognize and analyze some of the main water-works and gain a basic understanding of the methods and aims of art and architecture historical study.

No specific skills are required.



Week 1
Survey of the historical water typologies in the Mediterranean: History, Function, and Architectural Features.
Hammams and Roman baths. The case studies of Near East, Spain, Maghreb and Italy.
Recommended reading:
de Miranda, A., “Islamic architecture in Medieval Palermo: a case study of Cefalà Diana”, The Mediterranean Medina, ed by L. Micara, A. Petruccioli, E. Ladini, Gangemi, Roma, 2009, pp. 325- 330.
Eger, A., “Hammam,” Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online, 2023.
Sibley, M., Jackson, I., “The architecture of Islamic public baths of North Africa and the Middle East: an analysis of their special configurations”, Architectural Research Quarterly, vol. 16, n. 2, 2012, pp. 155-171.

Week 2
Water-wheels, aqueducts and cisterns. Waterworks in Near East, Spain, Maghreb and Italy.
Recommended reading:
de Miranda, A. “Aesthetic tradition and ancient technology: a case study of the water-wheel”, Design and Nature II. Comparing Design and Nature with Science and Engineering, ed. by M.W. Collins & C.A. Brebbia, WIT Press, Southampton, Boston, 2004, pp.105-114.
Lightfoot, D., “Syrian qanat Romani: history, ecology, abandonment”, Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 33, n. 3, 1996, pp. 321-336.
Soumi, G., Abdel-Aal, A., “Indigenous Water-Harvesting Techniques in Syria”, Indigenous Water- Harvesting Systems in West Africa and North Africa, ICARDA, Aleppo, 2004, pp. 77-88.
de Miranda, A., “Intrinsic Resilience in Levant Water-Based Infrastructures”, Environmental Sciences Proceedings, vol. 21, n. 92, 2022, pp. 1-5.

Week 3
Hydraulic automata and surprising fountains. The Islamic inventions. The Venetian inventions.
Recommended reading:
Al-Hassani, S. Al-Jazari’s Third Water-Raising Device: Analysis of its Mathematical and Mechanical Principles, 2008. analysis-of-its-mathematical-and-mechanical-principles.
de Miranda, A., “Play of Water and Function in the Mediterranean”, Islamic Heritage Architecture IV, WIT Transactions on the Built Environment, ed. by S. Hernández, WIT Press, Southampton, Boston, vol. 211, 2022, pp. 141-149.
Prager, F. D., “Fontana on fountains”, Physis. Rivista internazionale di Storia della Scienza, vol. XIII, n. 4, 1971, pp. 341-360.

Week 4
Late Medieval Italian fountains: the case study of the Siena water supply system. Student presentations.
Recommended reading:
de Miranda, A. “Surprising” Fountains in 15th Century Sienese Treatises”, International Journal of Arts & Sciences vol. 7, n. 2, 2014, pp. 133-154.
Fane, L., “The Invented World of Mariano Taccola: Revisiting a Once-Famous Artist-Engineer of 15th-Century Italy”, Leonardo. Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, vol. 36, n. 2, 2003, pp. 135-143.
Galluzzi, P. (ed. by), Prima di Leonardo: cultura delle macchine a Siena nel Rinascimento, Il controllo delle acque, Giunti, Firenze, 1991, pp. 272-329.


Teaching and evaluation methods
Teaching is provided through lectures supported by slide show presentations. The preparation is checked by means of an oral exam on the content of the course and a presentation done at the end of the course.
_Classroom oral presentation and attendance 50%;
_Oral exam on the content of the course 50%;


Suggested reading:
Wikander, O., Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Brill, Leiden-Boston-Köln, 2000.
Kucher M. P., The Water Supply System of Siena, Italy: The Medieval Roots of the Modern Networked City, Routledge, London, 2005.
Required reading:
de Miranda, A., “Clean Technology for Alternative Irrigation Systems”, Ecosystems and Sustainable Development V, WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, ed. by E. Tiezzi,
C.A. Brebbia, S. E. Jørgensen, D. Almorza Gomar, WIT Press, Southampton, Boston, WIT Press, vol. 21, 2005, pp. 681-688.
de Miranda, A., “Dalle terme all’hammam”, Architectural Heritage and Sustainable Development of Small and Medium Cities in South Mediterranean Regions. Results and strategies of research and cooperation, ETS, Pisa, 2005, pp. 343-354.
Oweis, T., Hachum, A., Bruggeman, A. (ed by), Indigenous Water-Harvesting Systems in West Asia and North Africa, ICARDA, Aleppo, 2004.
Ward English, P., “The Origin and Spread of Qanats in the Old World”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 112, n. 3, pp. 170-181.



Last updated: April 19, 2023


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
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