Parisian Sewerage from 1220-1789

Parisian Sewerage from 1220-1789

In 1370, Hughes Aubriot creates the first covered sewer in Montmartre, called the Fosse de St. Opportune. It dumped right into the Seine _ by the Louvre _ offending Louis XII. Francois I moved his mother to the Tuillerie to escape the smell.

Besides that, the crown did little to improve the sewers, showing complete indifference unless they were personally affected by the stench. The other sewers were simply gullies that ran down the middle of the street with no particular destination. They smelled odious, overflowed at depressions and turned to muck when it rained. Some desperate souls made a living by charging fees to cross these gullies on boards.

In 1539, Francois I orders property owners to build cesspools, for the collection of human sewage, into each new dwelling. Those who would not comply have their houses confiscated, and rents were collected to pay for the cesspools. Most of these cesspools were built to leak so as to be emptied less frequently-- water tightness was not mandated until the 19th century. These were emptied by cesspool cleaners who transported the human sewage in barrels to dumps outside the city. Cesspools remained the most common method of dealing with human sewage until the late 19th century and cut down on the human sewage found on the street.

In 1636, a study finds that all 24 sewers were clogged and in serious disrepair. Louis XIII found little interest in this and even pocketed the wine tax set aside for the upkeep of sewers. Sewer maintenance was never clearly defined and relegated; instead, contractors were hired by the city to clean and maintain only the open sewers. By 1663, one fourth of the ten kilometers of sewers were covered. These poorly designed sewers --with poorly kept records of their locations--hid their contents, were difficult to clean and clogged easily, since water flowed only when it rained. Sewer construction up to the 1820s consisted of hewn stones and rectangular bases, causing silt to build up quickly. Perhaps Paris was not ready for the responsibility of maintaining covered sewers and many felt that no sewers were less dangerous to the public health than badly maintained ones. There was much criticism of Parisian egotism in comparison to the "civic patriotism" of the Ancient Romans, who maintained their sewers and aqueducts.

Eugene Atget, Cesspool at 5 Rue du Figiuer @1900 4th Arrondissment

Street urinal photographed by Marville in 1873.

An ordinance of 1721 stated that property owners must pay for the cleaning of the covered sewers that pass under their building. The property owners concluded from this that they had the right to dump all their refuse in the sewer, aggravating the problem and causing many to become blocked. Another ordinance was passed in 1736 stating those found dumping in covered sewers would be heavily fined, and corporal punishment would be administered to the servants. A similar ordinance was once again passed 1755 to no avail, and illegal dumping continued.

The lack of adequate maintenance also causes the failure of the 1737 sewer design of Turgot, father of the minister. He constructed a large reservoir to provide sewers with a constant water supply, installed sluice gates to cause periodic flushing of the sewers and designed high walls with footbridges. The land above the sewers was set aside for gardening and building. Louis XV attended the opening in 1740, in a rare show of interest. Once again the illegal hookups cause the sewer to clog, and putrid smell soon emanated. The sewer was abandoned in 1779, soon after the death of Turgot.

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