Cool Stuff in Paris. By Manning Leonard Krull.

Wallace fountains — providing clean drinking water to Parisians for over a century

In your wanderings around Paris you might notice these ornate green water fountains scattered throughout the city, with four cast-iron toga-clad ladies surrounding a little jet of water. These things are called Wallace fountains, they were installed all over Paris in the late 19th century, and there's an interesting story behind them.

Before the Wallace fountains appeared in Paris, clean water was pretty scarce. Due to violent conflicts in the 19th century (the siege of Paris, and the Paris Commune), a lot the aqueducts that the city relied on were destroyed, and water had become a rare and expensive commodity. For poorer people, beverage options included: filthy disgusting Seine water (free!), water from clean sources (expensive), and booze (only slightly more pricey than clean water, and oh-so-tempting!). Many Parisians chose booze. An English philanthropist named Sir Richard Wallace felt that society had a moral duty to provide clean water to its people and steer them away from alcoholism, so he donated part of his fortune for the creation of the Wallace fountains.

Sir Richard originally donated 50 fountains to the city, and there are currently 67. Most of them still work! Wikipedia has a list of where they all are, not that you'd really want to go out of your way to track them down. The two pics in this article are just a couple that I ran into while strolling around the city recently. Now that you know about them, you will totally spot them everywhere too.

A couple neat things I've heard from various Parisians about the design of these fountains: the four women closely arranged around the fountain were put there to 1) prevent jerks from sticking a bucket in there and selling the water, and 2) keep horses from sticking their big dirty snouts in there to drink. There's just about enough room to fit a cup in there for personal (human) use.


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