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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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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.

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