When talking about everyday life in the city, one cannot ignore issues related to the removal of waste and excreta. In the yards and kitchens, the inhabitants prepared meals, and from there it was necessary to get rid of the dirt.
The sanitary function in old Gdańsk was played by latrines, also known as ‘secret places’. They were intimate places, about which one rarely reads in historical sources.
The latrines were located in the back of the plot, often in corners, possibly at the outbuildings, and sometimes near kitchens. In latrines ended up all waste associated with the functioning of the townhouse. In Gdańsk, from the end of the 15th century, the latrine was the basic sanitary device on every burgher plot. In the context of cleaning the city, the latrines had their advantages: they were suitable for long-term use, they could be emptied cyclically or new ones could be built next to the full ones.
Based on the objects found in latrines, discarded or lost, as well as thanks to the analysis of organic samples, archaeologists can make attempts to recreate the living conditions of former Gdańsk inhabitants. Latrine is a great source of historical knowledge!
Iin a quadrangular pit, not much wider than planned latrine, a wooden structure was erected: a boarding of the latrine pit. Remains of the boarding are practically the only preserved parts of latrines which are unearthed today during archaeological excavations.
The latrine construction consisted of three basic types of elements:
1. posts arranged vertically in the corners and sometimes also in the middle of the pit wall;
2. straining beams mounted in a horizontal arrangement, often tapered at the ends for easier placement in mortises or in vertical grooves of the side surfaces of posts;
3. boards forming wall surfaces, arranged horizontally or vertically behind a structure made of posts and straining beams.
In later cesspits, the structure is often made of walls themselves, made of thick boards arranged horizontally and joined in the corners with special carpentry joints. The differences in boarding of latrine pits are due to the changes which have gradually taken place in carpentry and woodworking tools.
Archaeological sources regarding latrines are primarily their underground parts. Sometimes in the backfill after the destruction of the latrine, wooden elements are discovered which could have been used to build the above ground part. Due to the lack of complete features, to reconstruct the latrines, the archaeologists have to use historical and iconographic sources.
[…] A chamber is needed, made of stone, the door to it is removed, one iron hinge, an iron door handle for blocking.
[…] That place was lined with boards and with the roof. A hook with staples at the door.
Citation from ‘Inwentarze dóbr ziemskich województwa krakowskiego 1576-1700’, p. 328.
• The sad end of the monk Sebastian Hegner, ill. by Johann Jakob Wick, mid-16th century (Zentralbibliothek Zürich, Handschriftenabteilung, Wickiana, Ms. F 12, Fol. 250v).
• Photos from archaeological excavations at Klesza Street in Gdańsk.
Edited by Agnieszka Ruta, Department of Gdańsk Collections, Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk