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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 III. Water for towns


III.1 Rainwater cisterns

Although in the treatises quoted above rainwater was called “the best” for drinking and cooking, it was recommended that containers for rainwater (Latin: cisternae) should be built in places where no water was to be found: cum aqua deest, as Pietro de Crescenzi put it, referring to Palladius, and as Andrzej Trzycieski translated it into Polish in 1549: “gdzie woda nie może być” [where water cannot be].526 Recommendations to use rainwater only as a last resort perhaps resulted from the fact that it was difficult to store (as “the lightest”) so as to preserve its high quality, namely that of water suitable for drinking. Let us recollect that the earliest this very piece of advice was given was by Aristotle: [the town] “must possess if possible a plentiful natural supply of pools and springs, but failing this, a mode has been invented of supplying water by means of constructing an abundance of large reservoirs for rainwater, so that a supply may never fail the citizens when they are debarred from their territory by war.”527 Indeed, rainwater cisterns played an important role only in places suffering from a scarcity of water – either temporarily or permanently – or even from the lack of other sources of drinking water.

Two types of cisterns were built: tank cisterns and filter cisterns (fig. 17). At the beginning of the 14th century the latter – more complicated in terms of construction – were described by Pietro de...

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