27.5.08

Drinking water in Paris during the 18th century

I found this at Debutants Ball while looking for another article by Catherine Delors.
I think you will find this interesting...

The Seine River was everything to Paris. Barges brought essential merchandises from distant provinces. Often they went no further than in Paris, to be dismantled in the spot and sold as wood. One embankment specialized in the commerce of wheat, another was dedicated to the wine trade. The embankments were not the paved, clean ones we see now. At the time, they were muddy or sandy, depending on the location. Indeed the Roman name of the city, Lutetia, is said to be derived from the Latin lutum, “mud.”

In summer people went swimming in the river. They did it to exercise, and for many it was the only time of the year when they could enjoy a bath. With the onset of the Revolution, morals became more puritanical, and the Municipality of Paris passed an ordinance making it illegal to bathe nude in the Seine.

For those who could afford it, bathing establishments, installed on barges moored along the embankments, offered private cabins and showers. The poor were left with the option of bathing in their shirts or not at all. In any case, they washed their clothes in the river.

The Seine also served as an open-air sewer and garbage dump. The streets of Paris were only cleaned when it rained, and the runoff naturally flowed into the river. People also threw their solid waste in it since there was no organized garbage collection. In particular all of the detritus from the nearby slaughterhouses of the Chatelet district were dumped into the river. Contemporary accounts mention a pinkish scum floating on top.

People and animals often drowned in the Seine, and it provided the “safest” means of disposing of the corpses of murder victims. The bodies were sometimes recovered downstream, robbed of any remaining possessions and buried unceremoniously in the mud of the banks. Those corpses fished from the river within Paris were taken to the Morgue, also in the Chatelet district, where relatives could identify and claim them.

Within city limits fountains were rare and often enclosed within the private gardens of convents or mansions. Most were therefore inaccessible to the public. That left - you guessed it - the Seine! Water carriers filled their buckets in the river and for a few sols brought the water up many flights of stairs (six-story buildings were frequent within the city.) And yes, people drank it.

The rich, of course, could afford to have spring water brought from the suburbs. They also drank excellent wines, much the same as our best modern French wines. Poor people drank “wine” as well, or rather a liquid by that name, but it often had nothing to do with fermented grape juice. It was a toxic mix of various chemicals and purple dye. From a health standpoint, it would have been a difficult choice between Seine water and fraudulent wine. More...

Thanks and a tip of the beret to Catherine.

Dieu sauve Le Roy! Vive le Roy!
de Brantigny

2 comments:

Catherine Delors said...

Thank you so much for noticing my post, de Brantigny!

de Brantigny said...

Merci Madame. I am always on the look out for obscure historical notes. They place life in the 18th century in a perspective, do you not think? Still I think maybe Paris was another large city which over grew its infrastructure, just as London, and Rome (I can think of no dirtier place in Christendom than Roma in the 11th through 19th century).

You have a nice blog. I shall have to purchase your book soon. Is it published in French?

Richard
gunnyb1973@yahoo.com