Hygiene in old Gdańsk
In old Gdańsk personal hygiene was appreciated.
Already in the 11th century in the city operated a bathhouse combined with something like a sauna (steam was obtained by pouring water on the hot floor). Later baths became common. Bath attendants belonged to a separate guild; to them belonged the altar of St Barbara in the St Mary’s Church. Unfortunately, in the post-medieval period baths lost their popularity, they began to be perceived as lecherous places (hence separate rooms for men and women).
Water for everyday use was drawn from wells, of which there were almost 600 in Gdańsk. Sewage drainage looked worse – it flowed down gutters along the streets, under wooden covers. Such a system did not protect against mixing of water with impurities, which was conducive to the spread of diseases.
To meet physiological needs, latrines were used, which are now discovered by archaeologists throughout the city.
Today’s residents of Gdańsk would be amazed if they saw with their own eyes how many animals were formerly kept in the city and in suburban areas. This multitude and diversity created the atmosphere of Gdańsk’s streets, but at the same time significantly hindered the maintenance of elementary hygiene rules. Once, no one was surprised to see the pigs being driven through the St Mary’s Church, although the clergy tried to stop this. Droppings left by pigs, goats and calves were a serious problem.
Street cleaning was duty of, amongst others, the executioner, who also cleaned the latrines, removed carrion, and killed stray dogs. The municipal dump was located near the gallows (currently in the Aniołki district), at the road to Wrzeszcz.
• Men’s bathhouse, Albrecht Dürer, 1496.
• Women laundering at the Jacek Tower in Gdańsk (from the collection of the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences).
• Pieter Bruegel (the Elder), ‘Autunno’ (Wikimedia Commons, Sailko, CC-BY-SA-3.0).
Edited by Dr hab. Adam Szarszewski and Dr Piotr Paluchowski, Department of History and Philosophy of Medical Sciences, Medical University of Gdańsk