Any civilization begins with a sewage system. Toilet was invented many centuries ago, which makes it very difficult to say where exactly the first toilet appeared on the planet.
Most likely, the first toilet was built on the island of Crete long before Christ. Inhabitants of Crete used to build inner water drain toilets. They looked like stone toilet seats complete with a complex pipe system to supply water. The Queen of Crete is believed to have invented such toilets 3,800 years ago. She sat down near a stream to relieve herself and afterwards saw that everything she was so eager to lose was floating away.
The prototype of modern toilet appeared in Mesopotamia about 3,000 years before Christ. Sewerage existed in ancient Egypt. Archeologists uncovered sewage canals, the age of which is over 2500 years, and a toilet seat from Tel-el-Amarna which dates back to 1350 BC. Much the same ancient toilet seat goes back to the Mohenjo-daro civilization (in 2500 BC on the territory of modern-day Pakistan). This brick construction with a toilet seat is connected with the underground deck drain system. More advanced underground systems of rainfall and domestic waste gutters existed in Babylon, Carthage, Jerusalem and Athens. An excavation site in China unveiled a stone seat with armrests and a toilet tank that would be filled with water (206 BC – 24 AD).
The most famous cesspool in the world – the Cloaca Maxima – was built in Rome. It was build in VII-VI centuries BC and reached five meters wide. For many centuries long this system remained the most impeccable one. The history of sewerage gives an account of luxurious toilets which served as places of meetings and conversations to the murmur of draining streams. Even the tax on latrines (public lavatories) approved in the first century by Emperor Vespasian could not prevent the toilet development. It was the tax that enriched the world vocabulary with the expression “Money has no smell” (Pecunia non olet). As to the territory of the modern EU, the first toilet was mentioned in the Icelandic sage of the 11th century. Iceland is known to be a pagan country, and Christianity did not root itself there.
The advent of Christianity made future generations of the Europeans forget about water closets for 1,500 years. People forgot about the achievements of ancient civilizations and relieved themselves anywhere, on front stairways of a castle, for example. The French Royal Household had to move from one castle to another on a regular basis because there was not a breath of air in the previous abode. Chamber pots stood under the beds nights long. Washing the body was a rather shady business in those days: nakedness was sinful and could also cause a chill. Hot baths were unreal luxury - firewood was too expensive. Even the Holy Office had to replace their favorite execution by burning with quartering or breaking on the wheel because of the firewood shortage.
From the XII up to the XIX century the unsanitary situation in Paris was remaining the same. For want of bathhouses the civilized and enlightened residents of Paris splashed around in city fountains in broad daylight. Others did not wash themselves at all.
The French kings’ palace Louvre had no toilets at all. Everybody relieved themselves in the yard, on the staircases or balconies. Guests, courtiers and kings just squatted down on the wide windowsill when necessary or were served chamber pots, which were emptied out at rear doors of the palace afterwards.
Just the same was happening in Versailles. During the reign of Louis XIV ladies-in-waiting could easily do the toilet in the middle of some conversation or even at the mass. There is a well-known story about the king himself. When a Spanish ambassador entered the king’s bedchamber, his eyes were watering because of the king’s odor. The ambassador politely requested the king to move to the park for a conversation and jumped out of the room as if scalded. But in he park the unlucky ambassador fainted because of the unbearable stench – bushes served as a latrine and all sewage was pouring out there.
The situation in London did not differ greatly from that in Paris. The contents of chamber pots were poured out into the chimneys in ‘respectable’ English houses. It was not prohibited even to urinate into the flaming fire. Of course, it produced stench, but fire killed all harmful bacteria. In the beginning of the XIV century a ‘private room’ was arranged into the London royal palace. It was situated near the banquet hall and can be observed even today.
Common people that had neither fireplaces no ‘private rooms’ poured their waste products out of windows. In London, authorities appointed special city watchmen to warn passers-by of danger falling from above. A watchman would shout out loud if he noticed a hand with a chamber pot reaching out of a window. This job was invented by the royal decree, because there was nothing more offensive than to be covered with faeces and urine from head to foot. But it was a good sport for citizens, as it always was amusing to douse some noble man with excremenet. Even so it was prohibited to break into offender’s house. Some people did and stabbed the brazen person with a dagger notwithstanding all prohibitions. Thus, it was much easier to appoint the night watchman position than to build a sewer system.
It was inquisition that adhered to such principles, as everything that happened during the night was considered the works of the devil. It was shameful to admit that you had been smirched with faeces, and citizens could always blame the evil one for their own faults.
Human wastes were flooding medieval streets and rivers. The water taken from wells for drinking and cooking was also dirty. Muddy waters leaked into the underground water-bearing horizon and poisoned the wells. Water carried different kinds of infection. The recognition of the fact that fresh linen and careful body washing are the best preventive measures came only when plague and cholera carried away more people than numerous wars. In XVII century the English parliament issued a special bill to build bathhouses and laundries. It was also ordered to cut the price on water. However, the church still believed that taking a bath was sinful and immoral.
Sewerage problem was the same in Germany. There were pits for sewage under the houses of rich citizens. Streets were so dirty that it was impossible to walk there in bad weather. That was the time when stilts appeared in many German cities, chronicles say. People could not walk along muddy streets without this footwear sometimes. The fashion for stilts soon spread to France and Belgium, where stilts competitions were often held in the Middle Ages.
However, there were water closets in German castles. The toilet in Burg Elz castle, for example, was situated in a round side tower. In rainy weather the water would accumulate above, the shutter would open and the rain water would wash everything off. But in dry years the situation was different.
Town rivers produced intolerable stench, and it was impossible to live or just to stand near them.
Only in 1889 the German society of national bathhouses was settled. Its motto read: “Every German should have a bath every week”. Cleanliness enthusiasts were not supported at first. By the beginning of World War I there were only 224 bathhouses all over Germany, and at the same time there still existed common outlets in the centre of Berlin.
Translated by Ksenia Sedyakina