From the early civilizations people in arid and semi-arid regions have relied on collecting or ‘harvesting’ surface water from rainfall and storing the water in human-made reservoirs or ‘cisterns.’ The storage of rainwater runoff has been constructed in the entire region around the Mediterranean and the Near East since the 3rd millennium bc. Not only were cisterns used to store rainfall runoff they were also used to store aqueduct water to allow for seasonal variations in the supply. Cisterns during ancient times ranged from the construction of irregular shaped holes (tanks) dug out of sand and loose rock, and then lined with plaster (stucco) water proofing, to the construction of rather sophisticated structures such as those built by the Romans and Byzantines. The primary objective herein is to provide a review of the use of cisterns by ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean region, and to relate the use of these cisterns to water resources sustainability of the past and the present, outlining the lessons learned.

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