A man entering a public urinal or ‘pissoir’ at Place Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, Paris, 1875.
The photos in this post were taken by one of the most notable and gifted photographers of the nineteenth century, Charles Marville. So revered was Marville in his native France that he was chosen by the city of Paris to document the changing city, especially landmarks that were built by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann who had been tasked with the job of giving Paris a makeover of sorts. According to details found in Haussmann’s biography, he was also responsible for the introduction of new and improved water supply and drainage for the overcrowded city in an effort to remove “foul odors” from the streets. Which brings me back to Marville’s fascinating photos of public urinals—or as they were called during this time period pissiors—that were located all around Paris during the late 1800s and well into the turn-of-the-century.
The pissoirs were conceived in 1834 by Claude-Philibert Barthelot, Comte de Rambuteau—a French official who pioneered and implemented improvements to the existing sewer system in Paris. Barthelot was convinced that the poor, unhealthy conditions of the streets were directly correlated to a massive cholera outbreak in 1832. However, it would be Haussmann that would be instrumental in helping install pissoirs of varying styles and sizes all around Paris, which helped confine the stench of urine that before their arrival was overwhelming the city. Thanks to Marville’s camera lens, this transformative time in Paris was beautifully chronicled in his photographs.
Most of the pissoirs that Marville photographed are quite beautiful despite their lowly utilitarian purpose, while others are not much more than a slab of carved concrete for Parisian men to relieve themselves on instead of a wall. At one time approximately 1,200 pissoirs stood around Paris and according to some the more private varieties were also used during WWII as places to discuss private matters without worrying if a Nazi was eavesdropping on you (or perhaps this was just what the men who frequented them told their wives?) By the time the 60s arrived, the city of lights had begun the process of removing its pissoirs, and only one still stands in the city on Boulevard Arago near the intersection of Rue de la Santé. Photos of Paris’ elegant pissoirs follow.
Boulevard Sébastopol 1875.
A large, elegant pissoir located at Champs-Élysées 1874.
More period pissoirs of Paris after the jump…