Air Conditioners of Ancient Times


Modern air-conditioning has emerged from advances in chemistry during the 19th century; the first large-scale electrical air-conditioning was invented and used in 1902 by American inventor Willis Carrier. However, the basic concept of air-cooling was implemented in Ancient Times, taking many forms; such as windcatchers and aqueducts.

In ancient Egypt, for example, people used to cover windows and doors using reed mats to help keep out the heat, dust, and flies. Sometimes, those mats were moistened with trickling water, where water evaporation cooled the air blowing through the window. This process also made the air more humid, which was beneficial in the dry desert climate.


Windcatchers were an important architectural element to create natural ventilation in buildings in Ancient Times. A windcatcher is a shaft rising high above the building, with an opening facing the prevailing wind. It used to trap the wind from high above the building where it is stronger and cooler, and then channel it down into the interior of the building.

Hassan Fathy; the famous Egyptian architect, assigns the emergence of windcatchers to Egypt, to later be developed in the Middle East, North Africa, India, reaching its highest position in Islamic architecture. While some scholars attribute this invention to Persia, there is important historical evidence of using windcatchers in ancient Egypt, dating back to 1300 BCE. It was clearly depicted in a wall painting of Neb Amoun’s house, at Tel El-Amarna tombs in Luxor—now in the British Museum.

Medieval Persians added this ventilation system to houses and water storages in order to make people’s life bearable, especially in the desert’s hot weather. It then became one of the manifestations and symbols of Persian civilization; check the following video for more details about how it works:


There is no doubt that ancient Romans were master architects; one of their marvelous huge architectural projects was aqueducts. The word itself is derived from the Latin words Aqua, or water, and Ducere, meaning “to lead”. They were means to transport water from one place to another, achieving a regular and controlled water supply to meet basic needs of people, such as irrigation of food crops, drinking fountains, large public baths, and private villas.

Aqueducts may take the form of underground tunnels, networks of surface channels and canals, covered clay pipes or monumental bridges; check the following video to know more about the great Roman aqueducts:

Romans managed to keep their homes cool during summer months by applying a series of architectural tricks that provided ancient forms of air-conditioning. They pumped cold water from those aqueducts through the walls of elite people’s homes to freshen their dwellings during summer months. They also constructed fountains in numerous squares to cool the weather for the public.

Although particularly associated with Romans, aqueducts were devised much earlier in Greece, Egypt, the Near East, and the Indian subcontinent, as an irrigation system. However, it was the Romans who were the first to use aqueducts as natural cooling system.


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