Water, Towns and People

Polish Lands against a European Background until the Mid-16th Century

by Urszula Sowina (Author)
©2016 Monographs 529 Pages
Open Access


The book describes the functions of water in Polish towns from the late Middle Ages to the beginning of the Early-Modern Era against a wide European background. It presents the issue of water supply in the context of the town as a complex social and economic organism, taking into account social relations, administration and power as well as living and working conditions. Describing water supply devices, the author reconstructs the ways in which the techniques were transferred to the Polish lands. She analyses municipal court books and documents concerning towns of various sizes in the Polish lands from the 14th to the 16th century, with particular emphasis on Kraków. In addition, she also considers archaeological and iconographical sources. Her findings provide a new insight into the alimentary and hygienic uses of water, its importance for production and crafts, and its use as a source of energy, transport and communication. This is the first broad comparative presentation of the subject in Polish and European literature.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Opinions concerning the quality of water in the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the early modern period
  • Part II. The town and the river
  • II.1 Lowland towns and the river
  • II.2 Upland towns and the river
  • II.3 The town watercourse network: the functions of rivers, leats and moats in the spatial development of towns with particular reference to Kraków
  • II.4 Water in suburban gardens situated on rivers
  • Part III. Water for towns
  • III.1 Rainwater cisterns
  • III.2 Dug wells
  • III.2.1 Construction technique and function of wells
  • III.2.2 Wells within the town space: ownership and management
  • III.2.2.1 Private wells
  • III.2.2.2 Between the private and the public space: wells belonging to neighbours’ communities
  • III.2.2.3 Town wells
  • III.2.3 Dug wells as mikvehs
  • III.2.4 Well-builders
  • III.3 Water supply systems
  • III.3.1 The importance and functions of water supply systems
  • III.3.2 Technological and organizational models of the construction and functioning of water supply systems
  • III.3.3 The establishment of water supply systems in mediaeval European towns
  • III.3.4 The structure of water supply systems
  • III.3.4.1 Water intakes for water supply systems
  • Spring water intakes
  • Water-works (Wasserkünste)
  • Archimedes’ screw in Poznań?
  • III.3.4.2 Water supply system conduits
  • Metal pipes
  • Ceramic pipes
  • Wooden pipes
  • III.3.4.3 Water storage reservoirs (zompy, rząpy, rząpia): inspection wells, water storage reservoirs connected to a water supply system open to the public, and decorative fountains
  • III.3.4.4 Connections
  • III.3.5 Builders of water supply systems
  • III.4 Private and professional ways of supplying water
  • Conclusion
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts
  • Printed sources
  • Cartographic sources
  • Dictionaries
  • Literature
  • List of Illustrations
  • Geographical and Topographical Index

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Aqua est substantia actualiter humida aere materialior huius virtutem lauatinam et gurgitaturam et potatiuam auctorum, monstrorum matrix et piscium faciliter susceptiua impressionum omnium et maxie caliditatis et frigiditate ab equalitate dicta a mari suam trahens originem1

“[…] since a city requires a large amount of water not only for drinking but also for washing, for gardens, tanners and fullers, and drains, and – this is very important – in case of a sudden outbreak of fire, the best should be reserved for drinking, and the remainder distributed according to need.”2

The above quotations from two works written almost at the same time, i.e. in the mid-15th century, reflect various ways of thinking about water in the times which will be discussed in the present work. The first quotation constitutes one of the belated attempts to define water in a manner proper to 13th-century encyclopaedias. The second quotation, although taken from a treatise, renders the reality of a 15th-century town and systematically, though briefly, presents these areas of life in which water – in large quantities – was most needed.

Among the most important factors organizing the town3 in the pre-industrial era were always its hydrographic conditions which had a decisive impact on the establishment and later on the functioning of the centre. Natural watercourses or reservoirs on which a town was built contributed to its layout and to the social and economic organization of its space. The creation of artificial watercourses or reservoirs stemmed from the necessity to meet various needs of a particular town and its inhabitants. The basic ingredient of food and drink, performing a crucial function in production, energy and hygiene, water has always been essential for life. Nonetheless, acquiring a sufficient amount of water of an appropriate quality and later its distribution was one of the most difficult supply problems in towns of the pre-industrial era. ← 7 | 8 →

According to Leon Battista Alberti, whose words have been quoted above and who presented the kind of knowledge that was known and used, different needs should be met with the use of water of different quality. The necessity to make a choice testified to the existence of problems with acquiring water – not only the best water, i.e. for consumption, namely for drinking and preparing food, but also suitable utility water,4 used mainly as a necessary element of craft production. The recommendation to make such a choice was addressed not so much to the inhabitants of the town, but to those who governed it. This obligation rested with the town authorities, however, complying with it also depended on the owners of the towns, chiefly as the ones who exercised power over the watercourses and reservoirs used by the town. At the same time, both for the town authorities and for the owners of the centre, managing the waters – understood as having control over them – constituted one of the manifestations of exercising power in and over the town. The problem was an important one: efficient water management was of paramount importance for the economic development of the centre: it facilitated reaching a high level of development of its crafts, which in turn enabled conducting trade in better-quality goods. Both the owner of the town and its local authorities benefitted from such a situation. The awareness of these interdependences resulted in the fact that providing water for the town and its inhabitants was perceived not so much as the owner’s benevolence, his “pious deed”, a manifestation of charity,5 but mainly as a well-understood common interest – “a public good” (“utilitas publica/bonum commune”6). Such was also the significance of water supply in the so-called towns chartered with German law which became more and more widespread from the beginning of the 13th century in the Polish lands as financial investments made by the princes of the provinces of the period of feudal fragmentation. They were interested in an efficient functioning and a good condition of these centres, because they were to serve – in a new legal and spatial form, like their models in the Holy Roman Empire – the strengthening of the power of the princes over their territories.7 ← 8 | 9 →

For local municipal authorities managing the waters entailed not only the obligation to build public water reservoirs and networks, but also effective judicial interventions aimed at resolving problems concerning the functioning of water devices in private space, so as to avoid any disturbances which could affect the everyday life and work. This ensured that the entire centre functioned efficiently.

In the area of municipal and burghers’ finance, water supply constituted the source of income for the one who exercised power over it, and on the other hand acquiring water entailed expenses. Hence both water itself and all devices connected with water appeared in accounts not only as entries on the side of the town’s revenues or expenditures, but also as the subjects of various public and private transactions, namely as a commodity either owned or managed by someone.

In research on particular towns the size of all undertakings connected with the management of waters – which depended on the financial possibilities of the town and its inhabitants (including the construction of public and private water devices) – should constitute one of the necessary indices on the basis of which the economic efficiency of a given centre, and thus its status, is evaluated.

In Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Poland appeared numerous noteworthy publications concerning the role of water in towns, including water supply. Often, they were published after interdisciplinary scientific meetings: the best forum to exchange experiences from conducted research. Throughout the years one of the most lively topics was the problem of various mutual relations between the town and the river. One of such works is Die Stadt am Fluß, published in 1978: a collection of papers devoted to towns situated on rivers, presented three years earlier at one of periodical conferences organized by Sűdwestdeutscher Arbeitskreis fűr Stadtgeschichtsforschung.8 Among presentations collected in the above-mentioned work, embracing the period from the Middle Ages until the 20th century, mediaevalists should turn their attention to those which describe the role of mediaeval bridges in towns on great rivers (e.g. bridges on the Rhine, bridges between Strasbourg and Kehl) and the meaning of the latter in long-distance transport and trade between cities (e.g. the importance of the Danube for the development of Regensburg), and various functions performed in towns by small rivers, most of all as the sources of energy for watermills.

In studies conducted during the next decades, rivers – even though they performed numerous functions – were perceived mainly as sources of energy for ← 9 | 10 → mills, whose importance for the feudal world, and also for mediaeval economy, cannot be overestimated, which fact was pointed out by Marc Bloch in his pioneering article published in 1935.9

Other works published concerned also the advantages of rivers in terms of communication, trade and supply offered to centres situated on a river or on canals branching off from a river. This was the case mainly in town monographs, but sometimes also in works devoted to the rivers themselves. However, from the 1980s rivers began to be perceived as water intakes that towns needed for their craft production and consumption. This in turn resulted in the revival of research on the supply of towns in general, and in particular on the ways of supplying towns with water. The former gave rise to at least two publications of post-conference materials: in 1981 – Städtische Versorgung und Entsorgung im Wandel der Geschichte (Villingen 1979) and in 1985 – L’approvisionnement des villes de l’Europe occidentale au Moyen Age et aux Temps modernes. The German publication contained papers concerning Central European centres, namely situated in south- western Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. The French collection included works on the supply of the Spanish town of Toledo, as well as of Dutch, western German, French and Italian towns. Supplying towns with water found its place in both of these publications: either as short mentions (e.g. in the case of Slovakia or France), or as entire articles devoted to this subject. Among the latter a significant role in subsequent years – for mediaevalists dealing with water in towns – was to be played by works by Heinz Dopsch, Ulf Dirlmeier and András Kubinyi, as well as by Dietrich Lohrmann.

However, by the time the latter of the above-mentioned collections was printed, two other works devoted entirely to water in towns had been published. In 1982 appeared a Dutch article by W.C. Wijntjes, who synthetically presented the methods and problems of water supply in mediaeval European towns. A fascinating image of a town and its waters, needed firstly to organize the centre, and then used for communication and defence, as a source of energy for mills and as an indispensible element of craft production (also in the form of channels-sewers carrying away wastewater from this production), André Guillerme’s work entitled Le temps de l’eau. La cité, l’eau et les techniques was published in 1983. These works presented a wide panorama of topics in the subject in question; for many years, they determined the direction of research on water in towns. This kind of research became – especially from the early 1990s – an independent and strong ← 10 | 11 → current in interdisciplinary studies, mainly in the domain of history, archaeology and art history, but also hydrogeology and biology (palynology and bacteriology).

Another very important work was “Geschichte der Wasserversorgung”, published between 1987 and 1991 by Geselschaft “Frontinus”, consisting of three volumes devoted to ancient towns and of one volume containing the findings of the then latest historical and archaeological research on the technique of water supply in mediaeval monasteries, burghs, castles, palaces and towns of various parts of Europe,10 with an acute lack of Italy and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as of the East-Central Europe. The year 2000 witnessed the publication of the fourth volume devoted to these subjects in the Renaissance. Among authors who contributed to the above-mentioned volumes were such outstanding scholars as: Paul Benoit, Klaus Grewe or Albrecht Hoffmann. Works dating from the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, dealing with various water installations from the point of view of a historian, an archaeologist and an engineer,11 can be counted among publications belonging to this “technical” current.

Starting from the early 1990s, the growing interest of mediaevalists in the issue of water in the town arose from the ever more detailed and in-depth studies on the mediaeval town: on its space, society, economy and – on the whole – socio-topography, but also on the town management methods used by the owners of the centre and by the municipal authorities. This was reciprocal: works concerning water inspired authors of town monographs to devote more attention to the waters of the centres under research.

In connection with such in-depth studies, in the relevant literature there appeared a very important subject of the control of waters used by the town, signalled as early as 1986 by Pierre Racine.12 One of the first scholars who decided to investigate it was Duccio Balestracci. Having worked on detailed monographic studies on the mediaeval municipal organism (on the example of Siena), he turned to research on water management in Italian towns perceived as an instrument of power,13 and voiced his opinion that “les eaux jouent un rôle de protagonisme absolu parmi les sujets qui contribuent à dessiner ce qui a été défini comme « reprise » économique – à partir du Xe siècle”.14 This view prevailed during the entire meeting in the scope of which it was aired, namely during one ← 11 | 12 → of the sessions of the Eleventh International Economic History Congress in Milan in 1994. The colloquium was organised by Elizabeth Crouzet-Pavan, the author of a monumental monograph on the social and economic structures in Venice, and Jean Claude Maire Vigueur, the co-author (together with Henri Broise) of a monograph on late mediaeval Rome. It was already in the Introduction that they expressed the following opinion: “Les implications techniques de l’histoire du contrôle des eaux apparaissent bien sûr comme des problèmes de première importance. Mais ce thème de la maîtrise et de l’exploitation des eaux peut être également conçu comme un révélateur des structures économiques, sociales et politiques et de leur transformation”.15 This meeting proved to be one of the most important conferences devoted to this subject due to its programmatic character. The majority of papers presented there secured their place in literature and served further research on water control in European economy. This statement concerns, inter alia, a paper by Patrick Boucheron about Milan in the years 1200–1500, the second (after D. Balestracci’s) presentation of the subject of water control in urban environments. Its second edition in 2001 (in English),16 together with an article by Derek Keene about water in London ca 1300,17 has made it possible to compare the ways in which water was managed and governed in two major centres of two different zones of development of European mediaeval economy. On the other hand, D. Keene’ s work together with an article published at the same time by Urszula Sowina (2000 – Polish edition; 2001 – French edition) concerning the water supply systems of mediaeval Rouen (on the basis of an analysis of Jacques Le Lieur’s Livre des Fontaines dating from the years 1524–1525) has enabled one to discover many organisational and legal similarities in terms of managing water ← 12 | 13 → from the water supply networks in Rouen and London, associated with one another politically until 1204, and later – still – economically.

In the second half of the 1990s and in the early 21st century the issue of water in towns, including its management, became the subject of interest also of other scholars. First of all, Paolo Squatriti’s work entitled Water and society in early medieval Italy, AD 400–1000, published in 1998, must be mentioned, as it broadened the existing field of research by including the early Middle Ages. While describing the use of water for various purposes (in houses, baths, farming, fishing and milling), the author showed the rules governing it and their origins, namely the ancient heritage and early mediaeval positive law.

In the same year and the following year post-conference materials from two subsequent congresses of historical and scientific associations (which had taken place in 1995 and 1996) were published in France. While in the scope of the first one, entitled “La ville au Moyen Age”, papers concerning water in towns were presented only during one section called “Équipement urbain”, the next congress was entirely devoted to “L’Eau et la Ville” from antiquity to the 20th century. In 1998 in Venice, within the framework of the 4th International Conference on Urban History, a session entitled “Water and the City” took place. It was organised by Giorgio Gianighian and Maria Isabel del Val Valdivieso. The latter scholar had been conducting extensive research on water in towns, also in a team with Spanish mediaevalists. This scientific team produced several significant publications in the years.18 Together with U. Sowina, M. Isabel del Val Valdivieso also organised a session entitled “Power and Water Problems in European Cities in the 15th and 16th Centuries” within the scope of the 7th International Conference on Urban History, Athens 2004.19

In the new millennium among various currents of research on the role of water in Europe, studies on water in towns have been continued; they led to scientific meetings which in turn gave rise to publications. However, besides post-conference books also separate works have been published. For example, in 2002, i.e. one year after the three above-mentioned articles about water in Milan, London and Rouen, a synthetic work written by an urban historian, Jean-Pierre Leguay, entitled L’eau dans la ville au Moyen Âge, was published in France. On the basis of written, archaeological and toponymic sources, its author described the role of ← 13 | 14 → water in French towns and French fiefs from late antiquity to the threshold of the modern era.

Before presenting the state of research on water in Polish towns, let us turn our attention to this subject in another country of the “younger” Europe, namely in Bohemia. Firstly, it was precisely via Bohemian lands and cities, and often through their intermediary, that institutional and legal models of the towns “of the German law” came from southern German cities to Silesian towns and to towns in the Polish lands of the period of feudal fragmentation, and later to the cities of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. These models were followed by the transfer of many techniques, including those of building water supply systems.

Czech studies on water in mediaeval towns constitute an integral part of archaeological research, carried out intensively and systematically for years in many towns, both large and small. Among the impressive findings which have been published to date are those concerning all the possible ways of acquiring drinking and utility water (the latter for the purposes of crafts): from dug wells – public and private, through water supply networks, to using water dripping down the walls of cellars carved in rock – as was the case in the mediaeval town of Tábor, which had immense problems with water. In the year 2000 Radek Široký published an extensive, richly illustrated synthetic article presenting the state and the perspectives of Czech archaeological research on water in towns, in which he gathered the whole existing relevant literature including historical studies, helpful to archaeologists. Thanks to numerous references mainly to German studies (but also to Slovak, Polish and Russian research), the author provided a wide picture of the technique of water devices in Bohemian towns against the background of such devices in other cities of East-Central Europe (including the Hanseatic region). The diversity and high technological level of installations used for water supply in Bohemian towns match the same qualities of water installations in Bohemian mines, mills and ponds (Bohemian mining, milling and fishing economy belonged to the best-developed in Europe of that time), which situates them all on the highest European level.

As far as Czech studies on water in towns are concerned, they have been continued throughout the recent years. This statement can be confirmed not only by the emergence of new archaeological research projects, but also by the fact that in 2003 the Prague City Archives organised a conference entitled “Město a voda. Praha, město u vody [City and Water. Prague, a City by the Water]”. This international meeting gathered also researchers from Germany and Poland, and its interdisciplinary character enabled the participants to exchange experiences from the domain of history, archaeology and water engineering.

A review of Polish works (in comparison with the above-mentioned Western European literature) should begin with the second volume of Historia Kultury ← 14 | 15 → Materialnej w zarysie [History of Material Culture. An Outline], a synthetic work edited by Anna Rutkowska-Płachcińska, published in 1978. This volume was devoted to the Middle Ages and it gathered the state of knowledge from the title domain with references to numerous earlier articles and monographs. Among the most important ones were studies on the role of rivers for mediaeval settlement, conducted mainly by Teresa Dunin-Wąsowicz, and also on the role of water in mediaeval economy in the Polish lands, chiefly in the technical aspect, in such domains as milling and pond fishing economy (Maria Dembińska), beer production (Stanisław Kutrzeba), and in such urban and rural crafts as tannery and weaving (Irena Turnau, Jerzy Wyrozumski), as well as for hygiene (Jan Tyszkiewicz). As far as water supply of towns is concerned,20 the main focus of attention was – just like in Western European literature – on discussing the historically and archaeologically documented town water supply systems (Franciszek Giedroyć, Łucja Charewiczowa, Elżbieta Ligęza); the authors usually associated the establishment of such networks with the requirements of beer production. Some of the works from the field of material culture history brought out after 1978 were the continuation of the above-mentioned studies (Agnieszka Samsonowicz, Andrzej Klonder). In 1993 a work entitled Poznań. Dzieje miasta wodą pisane was published. Written by Alfred Kaniecki, a geographer and a hydrologist, the history of this town described from the perspective of water proved important for the present studies. In 2004 it was brought out in a considerably extended version.

As to the presentation of water in numerous town monographs, the authors most often confined themselves to describing natural watercourses or reservoirs existing in close proximity to the town and the benefits they presented (e.g. in terms of fishing or the functions of an inland port). However, this did not result in a more detailed discussion of the ways of water supply within the space of a given town. In order to present the economic structures, the authors usually described individual crafts without reflecting on the possibilities or limitations of their development or specialisation depending on the abundance or lack of water of a suitable quality. For that reason, to a considerable extent central issues such as the range of goods and their quality (e.g. luxury production or its lack) were not examined, although, inter alia, they determined the economic potential of the centres and – together with other factors – the importance of the towns and the character of urbanisation. While describing the society of a given centre the authors mentioned the role of water rarely, fragmentarily and in general terms – on the level of domestic ← 15 | 16 → life (hygiene) at the most, never as a factor which shaped social relations or as an instrument of power in the town. Another issue that was not taken into consideration was the social and professional status of the people who built or repaired water devices; at best, their presence was mentioned. One of the important reasons for at least some of these deficiencies was the fact that the basic sources for studying urban morphology, namely town court books, were either used only to a limited extent, or were not used at all. It has to be admitted that this was not always possible, as many of them had been destroyed or missing (owing to frequent fires, but also as a result of the destruction and requisitions from the period of the Swedish Deluge in the 17th century, as well as of the German and Soviet operations during the Second World War). Socio-topographical studies on late mediaeval Poznań carried out by Jacek Wiesiołowski, in whose footsteps followed a number of other Polish scholars who undertook such studies on Sieradz, Elbląg, Wrocław, Toruń, Warta, Świdnica and Krosno, involved making use of this type of sources. It was mainly on the basis of town court books that the researchers recreated the changing relationships and interdependencies between the town’s social structures and its space, carried out the social valorisation of this space and – as a result – defined the economic status of the centre, its social and economic potential, functions and directions of development. In this socio-topographical picture, the role of natural watercourses and reservoirs was perceived as a factor which organized the social and economic space of a given town. Only in the case of Świdnica also dug wells were mentioned as performing this function.

Having conducted socio-topographical studies of one of the towns (Sieradz), the present author undertook monographic research on water in late mediaeval and 16th century towns. The choice of the subject was dictated by the fact that no such studies existed in the output of Polish historians. The focus was to be on the towns in the Polish lands in the period between the second half of the 14th century until the 1560s, with a particular accent put on Kraków. The chronological scope depended on the source base: on the one hand, town court books came into wider use in the 15th century, on the other hand, the number of mentions concerning the role of water devices in the town space increased in the 16th century. The author used all types of preserved written sources pertaining to as many centres as possible (cf. the sources listed in the bibliography), including two civitates maiores: Kraków and Poznań. Among the court books which were subjected to archival research there were all of their surviving types, namely town councillors’ books, books of the tribunal of advocatus and echevin books. In the case of Kraków, the archival research embraced also books of the councillors being in charge of the town’s money (Lohnherren) and books of the Town Hall governor (praefectus praetorii), as well as separate books of testaments and town account books, kept ← 16 | 17 → by the Kraków city council. A vast majority of the town books from all of the centres are manuscripts. The author used published town books only in the case of Poznań, Płock and partly Kraków. Court books of the towns of the Kingdom of Poland were usually written in Latin, with the exception of Poznań and Kraków books which were also written in German.

Archaeological evidence concerning water devices proved to be immensely helpful and constituted a valuable complement of sometimes excessively laconic written sources. The archaeological evidence was drawn from Polish urban archaeology, which has developed rapidly during the last 30 years, producing numerous publications pertaining to Wrocław, Kołobrzeg, Elbląg, Toruń, Gdańsk, Lublin, Płock, Krosno and other towns, although earlier works must not be forgotten, e.g. Kazimierz Radwański’s research on Kraków or Józef Kaźmierczyk’s study devoted to Wrocław. Some of these works became a direct inspiration for detailed historical analyses of the subject of water in towns, e.g. valuable articles written by Mateusz Goliński (the author of works devoted to the socio-topography of mediaeval Wrocław and Świdnica) pertaining to one of Wrocław’s water supply networks and to the co-ownership of deep wells in Świdnica.

Apart from written and archaeological sources, also iconographical sources were used, as well as the scanty material evidence that has survived.

Owing to the fragmentary character of the written sources the author decided to present the title issue against a European comparative background (with references to relevant literature and published sources). This resulted not only from the will to extend the research questionnaire in relation to Polish towns by problems which were not addressed directly in Polish sources, but also from the will to find the possible models and routes of the transfer of techniques (know-how, savoir-faire), particularly from those centres which were situated in countries from which they could reach Poland through direct or indirect contacts between the centres or their inhabitants (e.g. together with patterns of chartering towns with German law or as their consequence, or in connection with trade contacts). In some parts of the work, the fulfilment of these plans resulted in a clear predominance of the “European background” over the situation in towns in the Polish lands. Nevertheless, thanks to a detailed presentation of this “background” it was easier to evaluate the character and the dimensions of the same phenomena occurring in centres in the Polish lands.

The present work constitutes a research proposition which focuses not only on the description of various ways of water supply in the public and private space of a given town, but also on capturing the social and economic relations established in connection with it. It also attempts to provide answers to questions which have not been asked before in the above-mentioned town monographs. ← 17 | 18 →

As a result, the present work concentrates on showing the problems concerning the possibilities and limitations of various ways of water supply as well as how water was managed and how it was used to manage late mediaeval and early 16th century towns in the Kingdom of Poland.

The starting point is the first part of the work, in which opinions about the quality of water, depending on its kind, were presented. A detailed analysis of the readings of people who expressed these opinions was made to demonstrate the continuity of these views at least from Ancient Greece. Since they were the result of experiences gathered by observation of the invariable nature of water, of the conditions of its occurrence in environment, and of its demand, the opinions remained up-to-date throughout centuries and as such were repeated and passed down as common knowledge.

Making the river and its water the main subject under consideration in the second part, the author attempted to show the ways in which this water was used to the benefit of both the owners of the rivers and the town community. The activities and facilities using water from rivers were described from this perspective.

In the third part the author presented the building methods (with necessary references to classical antiquity) of all types of artificial reservoirs and watercourses in the town space, the ways of using them, and their role in the social and economic life of the town. Rainwater tanks and cisterns, dug wells and water supply systems were described in this manner. As a complement of the above, the importance of a direct supply of water from all water reservoirs, both natural and artificial, was explained.

The work was written at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. In the years 1953–1993 the Institute was called the Institute of History of Material Culture. Consequently, this domain also contributed to the character of the present work. The present studies were enhanced by the fact that the author had the chance to participate in the scientific life of the following scientific groups: the Mediaeval Society and Culture Section of the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences under the guidance of Professors Hanna Zaremska and Halina Manikowska; the Centre d’Histoire des Techniques et de l’Environnement at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris, headed by Professor André Guillerme; the team working under the guidance of Professor Paul Benoit from the Laboratoire de Médiévistique Occidentale de Paris (LAMOP), Université Paris I – Sorbonne; research groups from the Departamento de Historia Antigua y Medieval Universidad de Valladolid with Professor Maria Isabel del Val Valdivieso, from the Departamento de Historia Medieval Universidad de Córdoba with Professor Ricardo Córdoba de la Llave, and from the Archaeological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences ← 18 | 19 → with Professor Jan Klapšté, Ladislav Hrdlička and Martin Ježek. The author of the present work would like to extend her heartfelt thanks to all of the above-mentioned scientists.

An outcome of archival research done on many occasions and in many places, the present work could not have been written without the kind help of people working at the archives and libraries that the author used. Sincere thanks go to all of them, but especially to Krystyna and Aleksander Litewka and Kamila Follprecht from the National Archives in Kraków; Fr Jan Andrzej Spież OP from the Dominican Archives in Kraków; Maria Sierocka-Pośpiech from the Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw; Mania Kozyreff from the Library at the Catholic University in Louvain-la-Neuve; and to Marzenna Herman and the whole team at the Library at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

There are many individual scientists whom the present author would like to thank for their substantive advice, bibliographical tips and inspiring conversations; first of all, she would like to express her gratitude to the ones who are no longer with us: Professors Anna Rutkowska-Płachcińska, Danuta Molenda, Teresa Zarębska, Kazimierz Ryglewicz, Jean-Marie Pesez, Andrzej Pośpiech and Elżbieta Balcerzak, PhD.

The present author extends her special thanks to Professors Marta Młynarska-Kaletynowa, Mateusz Goliński and Denis Menjot.

The cooperation with Denis Menjot (established in 1993 thanks to prior scientific relations developed by the people working at the Section of History of Material Culture of the Institute of History of Material Culture of the Polish Academy of Sciences, mainly by Danuta Poppe, PhD) constituted the point of departure for the present author’s contacts with numerous “water colleagues” from abroad. These contacts, which continue to yield results in the form of the author’s participation in conferences and joint publications, developed thanks to a 3-month scholarship given to the author by the Maison des Science de l’Homme foundation in Paris in 1995 that enabled her to conduct comparative studies on the topic under research. Such studies were further deepened in 1998 during a 2-month scholarship of the Communauté française de Belgique at the Catholic University in Louvain-la-Neuve and during two 2-week research visits: in 1999 at the Archaeological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences and in 2000 at the invitation of LAMOP, Université Paris I – Sorbonne. The scholarships were gained through the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The present author would like to express her thanks to her Colleagues from Kraków: Professor Zdzisław Noga and Waldemar Komorowski, PhD, but above all to Professor Jerzy Wyrozumski for giving his consent to one of his reconstructions ← 19 | 20 → of the plan of Kraków from the Historical Atlas of Kraków being used by the author in the present work.

Special thanks go to the members of the Publishing Committee to the Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, headed by Professor Andrzej Janeczek, for their valuable comments.

Last but not least, the present author would like to thank her husband, Euzebiusz Sowa, the first patient listener, critic and consultant in technical matters.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2015 (December)
mikvehs norias Dug wells Water supply systems
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 529 pp., 71 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Urszula Sowina (Author)

Urszula Sowina is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. This book is the result of her research in numerous Polish archives on the supply of water and its use in Polish towns.


Title: Water, Towns and People
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532 pages