The saqiyya consists of a long wooden branch attached to a cow on one end and a tool for raising water on the other.
The tool is a large wheel containing small pots to raise the water. The cow turns the wooden branch, which turns the wheel and raises the water.
The saqiyya is considered to be one of the most important methods used to raise water in the Egyptian countryside since ancient times. The Greco-Romans also depended on it.
The word "saqiyya" is Arabic and its plural is "sawaqy." The Muslims inherited the tool from their predecessors and continued to improve it. Its use was widespread. Numerous sawaqy existed in Cairo, but now only a few are left including the Saqiyya of Sultan Al-Nasir Mohammad Ibn Qala'un, who had it built next to the Citadel to which it supplied water.
The sawaqy were also used to raise water directly from wells, the most famous being Bir Yusuf, which is found within the Citadel. Built by Sultan Salah Al-Din, this well and its saqiyya have been labeled by historians as one of the wonders of Egypt during the Middle Ages.
Almost all the travelers visiting Egypt described this well. On top of the well, two cows turned a saqiyya that raised a chain of pots filled with water from a first basin located halfway up the well. Another saqiyya, attached to a horse, raised water from the bottom of the well to the basin.
The two parts of the well are not on one vertical level. The first measures 5 square meters or 54 square feet and the second measures 2.3 square meters or 25 square feet.
The distance between each pot and the other averages 80 centimeters or 31.5 inches. The number of pots in the first well is 138, and the diameter of the saqiyya measures 1.98 meters or 6.50 feet.
It takes 24 minutes to raise the water using the jars from the first basin to the highest point in the Citadel.