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View Full Version : Sanitation of the Montone River in the 15th Century



Kayley
09-26-2013, 11:54 PM
I'm writing a story set in 15th century Italy (1460, to be precise) and had an idea for a scene where the characters go swimming in a river. The book is pretty depressing ATM, so I want to add a scene that's fun/romantic. However, I also know that sanitation standards weren't necessarily high back then, and I'm wondering if it would be practical for them to want to swim in a river or if it would be too dirty to be appealing.

The point in the book where I want to add the scene involves the characters being in Forli, which is why I thought the Montone river would be the most reasonable. Again, however, sanitation problems might make that a very bad idea.

If you don't think this is practical, do you have other ideas for something they could do in Forli at that time? The main problem the characters face in doing fun/romantic activities is that they have to remain conspicuous, or they'll alert the entity they're hunting about their presence. But while they're in semi-hiding, I want them to do something that's fun/romantic.

(An example of a similar scene is when the two characters are in Venice. They arrive during the Carnivale season and climb to the roof of the building in which they're staying to see the fireworks at night.)

King Neptune
09-27-2013, 03:09 AM
I don't know that river, but generally rivers would have been swimmable upstream from cities and towns, unless livestock wee polluting them, and een then it would be safe as long as they weren't swimming among the livestock, say a half mile downstream. People would have been washing clothes and themselves in it, and taking water for domestic use.

Alessandra Kelley
09-27-2013, 03:50 AM
By the fifteenth century didn't most Italian towns have well developed sewer systems? It would probably be worth checking out an archeological history of the area, starting from Roman times.

Kayley
09-27-2013, 08:44 AM
I don't know that river, but generally rivers would have been swimmable upstream from cities and towns, unless livestock wee polluting them, and een then it would be safe as long as they weren't swimming among the livestock, say a half mile downstream. People would have been washing clothes and themselves in it, and taking water for domestic use.

Thanks for the response! Maybe I'll use that idea after all, then. :)


By the fifteenth century didn't most Italian towns have well developed sewer systems? It would probably be worth checking out an archeological history of the area, starting from Roman times.

Thanks for the advice! Do you know of any sources where I could get this information? I tried to look it up on Google, but could only find information specific to Venice, which involved the use of their canals, so I don't think it would apply to Forli.

King Neptune
09-27-2013, 04:52 PM
Fpr information about the installation of sewers in particular towns you would have to ask the minicipal government. During that era getting the sewerage off the street was a considerable advance, so it would have been fresher when it got into the river.

Kayley
09-27-2013, 06:34 PM
Fpr information about the installation of sewers in particular towns you would have to ask the minicipal government. During that era getting the sewerage off the street was a considerable advance, so it would have been fresher when it got into the river.

Okay, I will try to get in contact with them!

Thanks to both of you. If I can't get more information, I'll probably just use the scene, since the general consensus seems to be that it'd be okay. However, I'll try a few more ways to get the info I'm searching for before I get to that part.

benbenberi
09-29-2013, 02:07 AM
Unless they were in the immediate vicinity of defecating livestock or some major industrial polluter (like a tannery), concerns about water quality in a flowing river are unlikely to have prevented 15c people from swimming in it, or washing, bathing, drinking, etc. If it wasn't dirty enough to smell bad, it was clean enough for all ordinary uses.

King Neptune
09-29-2013, 03:44 AM
Unless they were in the immediate vicinity of defecating livestock or some major industrial polluter (like a tannery), concerns about water quality in a flowing river are unlikely to have prevented 15c people from swimming in it, or washing, bathing, drinking, etc. If it wasn't dirty enough to smell bad, it was clean enough for all ordinary uses.

Not just 15th century people, but up into the early 20th century the same would be true.

Alessandra Kelley
09-29-2013, 04:32 AM
http://www.eng.unibo.it/PortaleEn/Students/User+guide+to+Campus+Branches/User+Guide+to+Forli/historical_background.htm


Enclosed between two rivers, the Rabbi and the Montone, the city grew up like on an "island", with the only problem of surviving the river floods. Only at around the year 1050, the local water system was put under control and the course of both rivers was deviated far away from the city inhabited centre.

Kayley
10-01-2013, 12:30 AM
Thanks so much for the replies, everyone! Seems like sanitation wasn't a big issue, so I'll write the scene as planned. :)

jaksen
10-01-2013, 12:37 AM
Did people swim for fun at this time? I know even in our time, many young people don't know how to swim and there's a big push to get more minority children and young people involved in swimming.

During WWII (diff. era) not every young male soldier knew how to swim either. My father was a country boy and could, which is one of the reasons he survived the landing at Normandy. He was horrified to learn many of his companions could not swim and drowned before they could reach the beaches. Of course, there was the constant gunfire, too.

And in America and parts of Europe, swimming became popular and something to do (at least in summer) in the late 1800's and early 1900's. A lot of beach-goers sort of just waded around in the water because they couldn't swim.

So swimming in a cold, fast-moving river...

If I am wrong and it was very popular activity or pastime in Italy at the time you are writing, apologies...

King Neptune
10-01-2013, 02:30 AM
Swimming has never been all that common, but splashing in cool water on a hot day has been popular for quite a long time. It is difficult to swim in a river any time, unless there is a long bend where the current slows greatly.

Alessandra Kelley
10-01-2013, 02:45 AM
Somewhere I have a book of manuscript illuminations showing country life, one of which shows people stripping down and swimming in a river in the summer. I can't recall exactly when it was from, but my memory of it wants to say fifteenth century.

Kayley
10-02-2013, 09:56 AM
Did people swim for fun at this time? I know even in our time, many young people don't know how to swim and there's a big push to get more minority children and young people involved in swimming.

During WWII (diff. era) not every young male soldier knew how to swim either. My father was a country boy and could, which is one of the reasons he survived the landing at Normandy. He was horrified to learn many of his companions could not swim and drowned before they could reach the beaches. Of course, there was the constant gunfire, too.

And in America and parts of Europe, swimming became popular and something to do (at least in summer) in the late 1800's and early 1900's. A lot of beach-goers sort of just waded around in the water because they couldn't swim.

So swimming in a cold, fast-moving river...

If I am wrong and it was very popular activity or pastime in Italy at the time you are writing, apologies...

Good point. My MC is technically undead (it's a YA fantasy rather than historical), so she doesn't breathe and therefore can't drown. However, she could certainly get washed away by the current. Perhaps I'll have them sit on the water's edge and dip their feet in instead. I think it would have the same effect (fun/romantic) without posing any challenges to believability.

blacbird
10-02-2013, 11:23 AM
By the fifteenth century didn't most Italian towns have well developed sewer systems?

"Well-developed sewer systems" at that point in history simply meant efficient means of dumping shit into the river. It wasn't like they had sewage treatment plants.

caw