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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 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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The ways of providing water supply and managing it in towns described in the present work are at the same time an attempt to show social and economic relations which emerge alongside this process. This kind of a research proposition should serve the most thorough identification of a town, its function and economic possibilities, and, consequently, the level of urbanization development in the Polish lands in comparison with other parts of Europe.

The conscious need to gain water of the best quality and in sufficient quantity was visible not only in treatises, but also in the actions taken by various communities: living in one household, on one plot, in the neighbourhood, in town.

If we consider opinions about the quality of water depending on its kind, dating from the Middle Ages and from the 16th and 17th centuries, we must acknowledge that in the written sources concerning towns in the Polish lands, the information regarding the acquisition of rainwater, spring water, water from rivers and from wells is not equally well recognizable. The smallest amount of data concerns rainwater and spring water, which enjoy the highest opinion in treatises. Rainwater was much more often perceived as water carried away from the town, because its excess could cause disturbance or even a disaster in the form of a flood. Only occasionally was rainwater identified as used in the space shared by neighbours: gathered by means of gutters and drainpipes, additionally in relation to dug wells...

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