Among the nearly 11,000 historic buildings in the Fez Medina, one of the most visited sites is the famous Magana Bouanania - the remains of the ancient water clock on the Talaa Kbira
The hydraulic clock was built on the orders of the Merinid Sultan Abu Inan Faris. He commissioned Abou al-Hassan Ibn Ali Ahmed Tlemsani to undertake the construction which was completed on the 6th of May 1357. Tlemsani was the muwaqqit - the man in charge of maintaining clocks that indicated the correct times for the muezzin to announce the call to prayer. However, the clock fell into disrepair and has remained silent and inert for almost five centuries.
|Dar al-Magana today - still awaiting reconstruction|
How the clock, with its wooden decor and sculpted plaster, originally functioned is a mystery that has long puzzled scientists.
The clock consists of 13 windows and platforms carrying brass bowls. The motion of the clock was presumably maintained by a kind of small cart which ran from left to right behind twelve doors. At one end, the cart was attached to a rope with a hanging weight; at the other end to a rope with a weight that floated on the surface of a water reservoir that was drained at a regular pace. Each hour one of the doors opened; at the same time a metal ball was dropped into one of the twelve brass bowls. The rafters sticking out of the building above the doors are identical to the rafters of the Bouinania Madrasa (Islamic school) and originally supported a small roof to shield the doors and bowls.
|Dar al-Magana in the beginning of the last century|
On December 16th, 2004 specialist heritage experts under the guidance of the Agency for the Development and Rehabilitation of the city of Fez (ADER-Fez) removed the bowls and began to investigate the possible reconstruction of the clock. ADER later stated that they were confident that after reconstruction the clock would be operational again.
A possible clue to the workings of the clock lie in treatise Ktab 'Amal al-sa'at wa-l-amal biha (On the Construction of Clocks and their Use) written by the Arab engineer Ridwan b. al Saati in 1203. The book contains a description of the Jayrun Water Clock, built by Muhammad al-Sa'ati, which was positioned at the gate of Damascus, Syria, at the exit of the Umayyad Mosque in the 12th century.
|The Jayrun Water Clock, built by Muhammad al-Sa'ati|
The scholar Al Jazanaî in his book "Zahrat Al Aas" (the flower of myrtle) gave a description of the Magana Bouanania, saying that " in front of the north gate of his new madrasa Abu Inan Al Mérini built a " Magana "with cups and bowls of brass. To mark the hour, a weight falls in one of the cups and a window opened. This building was erected in the last days of the construction of the Bouanania madrasa."
Other clues may lie in the work of Alī Ibn Khalaf al-Murādī, an 11th century mechanical engineer and author of the unique technological manuscript wonderfully entitled Kitāb al-asrār fī natā'ij al-afkār (The Book of Secrets as the Results of Thoughts).
|A fragment of The Book of Secrets|
ADER can certainly be forgiven for the years of waiting for the water clock to be restored. Their work involves protection and preservation of a huge number of historic sites in the medina of Fez, including 43 Islamic schools, 83 mausoleums and zaouïas, 176 mosques, the Quaraouiyine university, 40 hammams and some 70 km of water networks.
At a recent ADER meeting its director, Fouad Serrhini, pointed out that the Medina is home to 1.276 artisanal art workshops employing nearly 40,000 artisan and that there are 12 specialised souks, 9,600 shops and three major traditional tanneries.
Serrhini also noted that the Medina of Fez is a living example an intact medina and that ADER would continue to safeguard the urban and architectural heritage and ensure its integration into the economy and the development of commercial, craft, culture and tourism, in addition to enhancing the attractiveness of the Medina for its inhabitants as well as visitors.