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Een heilzame vergissing. Het urine- en fecaliënprobleem van Grieken tot Gouwenaars

By Cornelis Van Tilburg


Nowadays, faeces and urine are considered as noxious and unhealthy. In ancient times, however, urine and excrements were seen as undangerous and even useful; urine for textile production and excrements for agriculture. The Romans constructed sewers like the Cloaca Maxima, in the first place to remove (rain)water and drainage. Only later, toilets were connected to these sewers to remove the smell of urine and excrements. The idea that sewers were constructed with the specific aim of removing urine and excrements is therefore no longer valid, but the memory of this function of the (Roman) sewers was maintained in the Middle Ages.From the Renaissance onwards, city planners developed their ‘ideal cities’. In these cities, there was no place for the dirty smell of urine and excrements, so subterranean sewers had to be constructed. Yet such ideas proved difficult to implement in the Dutch context. The Dutch engineer Simon Stevin realised that the situation described by the ancient and Renaissance sources did not offer a solution for the problems in Dutch cities, with standing water in canals and without natural drainage. Moreover, in this period there was not yet an awareness of the relation between the presence and smell of urine and excrements, on the one  hand, and hygiene and public health on the other.Awareness of this relation came not earlier than the 18th century. The German physician Johann Peter Frank argued in favour of diminishing the bad smell by  means of filling up canals; the city physician Willem Frederik Büchner was confronted with the extremely unhealthy situation in the typical Dutch city of Gouda. But their political influence was small. Only at the end of the 19th century, the construction of sewers began in Dutch cities, thus – improving health conditions

Topics: Geschiedenis, sewerage, public health
Year: 2012
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