Historical toilets in Oslo

In 2001, at an international conference in Singapore, representatives from 17 national toilet associations from Asia, Europe and North America (dedicated to everything related to toilets) declared the 19 of November the World Toilet Day.

Now let’s find out a little bit about that place where we spend a lot of time, namely, the toilet. The concepts of hygiene and sanitation have been long known to man, even though they have varied a lot between centuries. The ancient history of the toilet, older than a thousand years, is the best example. By the way, it’s exactly with the toilet that there are lots of related catch phrases, clothing, and of course, architecture. We will touch a bit of everything on this article.

on the left: toilet dated back to 18-19 century from Museum of Cultural History in Oslo

The history of toilets, reminiscent of modern times, goes hand in hand with the development of the water supply to cities, and starts with Ancient Greece, where they started to build aqueducts for the first time in Europe. During the Roman Empire, the standards of hygiene increased a lot, and with it, everything that was connected with cleanliness was further developed, and not just toilets, but also baths. CLOACA Maxima, the famous Roman gutter, used for sewage, was built around 500 BC. By the way, the name gutter ended up becoming a household word and is used in the modern language to mean something that is very disgusting and unclean.

Did you know that the famous phrase Pecunia non olet  – money does not stink is connected to the toilet? The first public paid toilet was opened before our era in the Roman Empire, in the city of Hieropolis. At that time, a toilet was a luxury and only the nobility had the right to use it. Due to its convenient placement on the main shopping street, it became kind of a business center, where trade deals were done. Emperor Vespasian saw a financial opportunity and decided to replenish the city treasury by making it paid, and at the same time, available to everyone. 

Left photo: toilet 19- 20 century toilet from Museum of Cultural History in Oslo

According to legend, when sharing this idea with his son, they had a complete misunderstanding: an unprecedented business – profiting with a toilet! After the implementation of the project, the emperor brought a bag of money and shook it around his son’s nose. “What does it smell like? – “Nothing”, said the son. At that time his father uttered the words that still are used in our days “Money does not stink!”.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, much has been lost, including basic sanitation. Sewage was destroyed, and now the role of a toilet was played by a normal pot, which had its contents spilled directly onto the street. Europe plunged into stench and disease. Even the famous Versailles was built without a toilet. But there were many empty rooms in the remote corners of the palace, where you could have some seclusion. But Oslo isn’t Paris, and the remains of the first toilet can be found in Akershus castle. The toilet dates back to the 17th century. It was a special room, located in each floor, which there was a hole in the wall, where the sewage flowed down the fortress wall, exactly where tourists walk nowadays.What about the situation of houses of normal citizens in medieval cities? Very bad from a modern point of view. There were no toilets at all. Its role was played by pots, which had its contents thrown onto the streets. This is what led to the creation of hats with brims, so that the collars don’t get numb.

Some words about the element of architecture called a “french balcony”. Relieving yourself through a normal window was dangerous and uncomfortable. So they started doing windows going until the floors, without sills but with an arched lattice, to make it easier to locate.

The first toilets with running water, the type of Ancient Rome, re-appeared in Europe around the 16th century. It should have been almost 200 years before the development of the bathroom which we use today.

n 1775, a British man named Alexander Cummings, bent the drain pipe from a toilet in the form of a “U”, so that a small amount of water in it didn’t release smell. The inventor Dalton was the one who came up with a tank mounted on the wall above the toilet. The first toilets of modern design were produced by the Spanish joint-stock company UNTAS, and this is why the name “unitas” is so well known as “toilet” in many different languages. Then, since 1915 came the time of the cisterns, which we use to this day.

on the left: toilet from Jewish museum of Oslo. Decorated by Jewish jocks.

Fun facts: In 1906, only 106 apartments in Oslo had a toilet! New behavior slowly began to supersede old habits, and by 1940 already 30% of apartments had toilets. And today you can’t find an apartment without a toilet. It became the standard of civilized life in Europe and hopefully this time for good.

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