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Water, Towns and People

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


Urszula Sowina

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.
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Part II. The town and the river


Bartholomeus Anglicus advised preparing potagium with the use of river water (as well as spring water), and thus he acknowledged its high value as far as consumption is concerned. In a book devoted to the river, De fluvio, he underlined it once more by stating that drinking water from the river invigorates and refreshes the thirsty: fitientes potu reficit et recreat.108 He wrote: fluvius a fluendo est dictus secundum Isidori, and pointed to the everlasting character of the river that will never cease to flow, unless it is cut off from its source: enim est perennis fluxus que continue fluit et nisi eius intercipiatur origo fluere non desistit.109 It flows in its main river bed (still bearing its own name), it is fed by tributaries, and the further it flows from the source, the more water it gets.110 It takes on the qualities of places it flows through, including the colour, the taste and the smell. Praising the qualities of the river, Bartholomeus highlighted the numerous benefits it brings to both animals and humans: habet etiam flumen sive fluvius quo ad effectu multiplice utilitate humanis usibus congruentem… unum tam iumentis quam hominibus tam parvis quam maioribus equaliter administrat. The faster it flows, the more benefits it offers. Emphasizing the strength of its current, Bartholomeus pointed not only to the transport qualities of the river (naves… suo impulsu agitat et impellit), but also to its role as a source of energy for even the largest mill wheels: rotas etiam...

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