Paris: Urban Sanitation Before the 20th Century

A History of Invisible Infrastructure

by Frederique Krupa

Built on the ruins of the Roman city of Lutecia, Paris was officially
founded in 360 AD. Its evolution was defined by a succession of fortified
walls that surrounded its ever expanding territory well into the 19th Century.

Since ancient times, the basic rule for dealing with Parisian garbage was
"tout-a-la-rue" -- all in the street -- including household waste, urine, feces
and even fetuses. Larger items were frequently thrown into the
"no-man's-land" over the city wall or into the Seine. Feces, however,
was often collected to be used as fertilizer. Parisian dirt streets easily
assimilated the refuse thanks to frequent rain and heavy pedestrian and
cart traffic. The edible muck was often consumed by pigs and wild dogs,
and the rest was consumed by microorganisms. The smell of the rotting
matter was terrible but by no means the only contribution to the odors
found in Paris.

The history of waste treatment in Paris was not unlike those of other
major industrialized cities. Response to the accumulation of refuse
generally occurs when problems become too urgent to ignore.
Paris's enormous production of urban refuse - household and
manufacturing garbage, human and animal excrements, human
corpses and animal carcasses _ produced gradual solutions in the form
of cesspools, gutters, waterworks, sewers, street cleaning ordinances,
fountains, garbage collection, dumps, bathhouses, bathrooms, street
urinals, sewerage farming, composting, mass graves, cemeteries
and catacombs, intertwined and influenced by the political
and philosophical ideas of the times. This site will tackle four waste
management topics -- sanitation, sewerage, garbage and corpses --
in chronological order starting with the medieval times and ending
with the end of the 19th century, when most of the current
waste management methods were implemented.

Images in this site are by Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Eugene Atget
(1856-1927) and Marville, French photographers documenting mundane and
extraordinary sites in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

Sanitation to 1789 Sewerage to 1789 Garbage to 1789 Corpses to 1789

Text Timeline Bibliography

Frederique Krupa is an Assistant Professor of the Industrial Design
Department at the University of the Arts.

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