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History of Bathroom Plumbing Fixtures

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Water Supply Systems

Bathroom plumbing fixtures were not possible in the ancient times as water was brought by irrigation; the diversion of the rivers and streams into croplands. Water for home use was carried in pottery jars from the nearest source of water. However, from Ancient Knossos in Crete come discoveries of tubular water conduits. Knossos was founded in about 6000BC and destroyed by an earthquake in about 1450BC.

The earliest indications of bathroom plumbing fixtures is in the Indus Valley, where clay pipes for carrying water have been found dating back to 2700BC. Between 2000–200 BC in cities in what used to be called Asia Minor, many ancient remains of pipes, cisterns, canals, tunnels and aqueducts have been found.

In Babylon, as far back as Hamurabi, well over one and a half thousand years BC, the inhabitants were known to have used canal systems. Senecharib, the Assyrian king who conquered Babylon and became its king about 700BC is believed to have built an aqueduct and dams and extended canals. It is believed the Chinese, the Greeks and the Romans used pipes of stone, clay, bamboo, and lead to channel water.

From ancient Biblical times we know of baths for religious ceremonial use, and Roman pleasure baths are well known. They even included bathroom plumbing fixtures such as waterpipes, fountains and faucets. The Roman villa of a wealthy citizen was built in a square with a courtyard in the center. Water drained off the roof into a cistern for house use. Water for the baths was channelled by means of lead pipes, and river water was used but even then they regarded lead as contaminating and they preferred aqueduct water from mountain springs for health reasons.

For much of our history, water was carried in lead pipes as these were easy to make and work with. Bronze, stone and even wood was experimented with but with no real success. Water supplies to the cities led to public places. These were fountains and later street pumps where water could be collected for household use. Large houses generally had a water pump and a trough for horses in their stableyards. Cast iron pipes were made as early as the 1600’s but were only brought into use in the cities about 100 years later. They proved to be the answer. They were durable and had such resistance to corrosion that pipes of more than 200 years old are being dug up today and are still in good condition. They are still being used at present for conveying water to the cities together with concrete and ceramic pipes and now the new synthetic pipes such as PVC. For health reasons, PVC and copper piping has taken over from lead for bathroom plumbing fixtures within the home almost universally.

Wells were dug from the earliest times and continued in use, especially in the country areas until the 20th century, when boreholes with pumps took over.

Sewerage and Waste Systems

Pit latrines are probably the earliest kind of waste disposal. We know of them through the sanitary laws of Biblical times which required them to be dug no nearer than a specified distance, and down wind of the town or settlement. Pit latrines continued until very recently in the country areas after which septic tanks were invented. The cities didn’t fare so well. There is dispute about whether or not chamber pots and slop buckets really were emptied into the streets in Europe during medieval times.

However there were ‘kennels’ at the sides of the roads, which seem to have been some sort of drainage system that led to the sewers. Sewer systems made far quicker progress than public water supply systems, and from medieval times and before, many of the world’s big cities had a well developed system of underground sewers. They mostly drained the cities’ rainwater and street muck into the nearest river. Many of them still exist and you can even take tours of them! They are fortunately seldom used for their original purpose any longer, as city sewerage is now directed underground to processing plants outside of the cities.

One of the earliest bathroom plumbing fixtures discovered were indoor latrines in Ephesus dating back to the first century AD. It must have been a public facility as several latrines shared one room. Since then, it was a long time before toilets found their way back into houses

In cities, pit latrines gave way to outdoor latrines with buckets. These were collected and emptied into cesspools away from the houses. The stigma attached to latrines has only disappeared the last 50 or 60 years in most countries and today bathroom plumbing fixtures in the form of hygienic toilets and waste water drains are a normal part of our homes.

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