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Water, Towns and People

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

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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 14 th to the 16 th 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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III.2.3 Dug wells as mikvehs

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Dug wells, presented in the previous part of the present chapter, with their basic division into private, neighbours’ and public wells, are obviously not the only type of such water reservoirs reaching the town’s subsurface water-bearing strata. Jewish water reservoirs should not be overlooked. A Jewish well (puteum Judeorum) in Płock dating from the 13th century was the earliest-mentioned Jewish well in the Polish lands. Situated near the Dominican Monastery, it constituted an important point in the town’s topography, considering the fact that the Bishop Piotr in a document of 1237 listed it as one of the elements marking out the northern border of the area included in the privilege. Therefore, it was treated in the same way as a well near the collegiate Church (puteum Wyslaue ecclesie) which was mentioned as another landmark.933 Owing to the laconic character of the written source it is difficult to establish whether the puteum Judeorum in Płock was a well or a mikveh, namely a water reservoir used by this community for ritual immersion. In the year 1453 in Wrocław the “baden Borne” was mentioned also as a landmark in the town’s Jewish district.934 This record revealed that it was a mikveh, a reservoir dug to the water-bearing stratum, an equivalent of a fons: a well. This was the word (fons) used to describe a 15th-century mikveh in Poznań. However, this can be established only on the basis of the content of the mention which includes a detailed...

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