Monday, May 27, 2013

The Many Fountains of Aix-en-Provence

Take just a minute to think about the importance of a fountain to a neighborhood in a medieval village. There was no convenient plumbing to bring fresh water into the house nor sewer lines to carry away the waste water. Every home, rich or poor, depended on that neighborhood fountain.
Much of coastal Provence was inhabited by the Greeks until the Romans moved in an took over. The Romans  liked their baths and considered a good source of water essential. They put a lot of time and money into building canals and aqueducts to get the water from its source to where it was wanted.
By the Middle Ages, fountains had developed into some pretty ingenious water supplies. Whether the water came from a spring or was carried by an aqueduct, it finally arrived at the neighborhood fountain via lead pipes.
The water came from either a wall or a central feature of the fountain via tubes called 'cannons.' The water that came directly from the cannons was theoretically clean. It was collected in jars or jugs and carried back to the house for use as drinking or cooking water. Many of the fountains in Aix still have metal bars under the cannons where the jugs can be rested while they are filling.
(This would be my neighborhood fountain, but I can't imagine going down four flights of stairs, walking a block and a half, filling a jug, walking back home, and carrying it up four flights of stairs.)
Once the water falls into the large basin, it is not quite as clean, but it is available for other needs such as drinking water for livestock.
The overflow from the basin ran into another basin, called a lavoir in French, that could be used for washing clothes and, very occasionally, bodies. I have often seen these washing basins in towns in Latin America.
The overflow from these basins were carried away to be used to water gardens. Once the water had been used for washing clothes, it had a residue in it from the home-made soap that worked as fertilizer for plants. I suppose it might also have been used to flush waste from the gutters than ran down the center of the streets.
Of course, none of these fountains are used for all that anymore. They do, however, offer just about the only free seating in town (as opposed to a sidewalk café.)
This is just a sampling of the fountains in the medieval village center. I believe there are over forty of them. I hope you have enjoyed seeing them.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the share, I totally agree on your thoughts here.. Same in retirement home community, you have nice point of view.