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European Themeroute | Water

No European country has as close a relationship to water than the Netherlands. For this reason water construction technology developed here first. At the start of the 17th century people began the struggle to reclaim land from the water. They were motivated by two main aims; to create land for ... more

Icon: WaterBlue gold. European Themeroute Water

No European country has as close a relationship to water than the Netherlands. For this reason water construction technology developed here first. At the start of the 17th century people began the struggle to reclaim land from the water. They were motivated by two main aims; to create land for agricultural purposes and to protect themselves better from floods. The small parish of Beemster, near Amsterdam, is a good example. The local inhabitants of this damp coastal countryside had been harvesting peat for many years because the fuel was much in demand. The trouble was that water built up in the low-lying areas, creating an inland lake. This was connected to the Zuiderzee and threatened to become even larger. It was mainly Amsterdam merchants who joined forces to initiate one of the first ever land reclamation projects. The principle was always the same: the area of water would be shut off from the open sea or any other tributaries by dikes. A series of windmills would then be built on the banks and on dams: these would be used to drive pumps or bucket wheels to transport the water into outlet trenches.

Beemster lake was pumped dry in 1612 and the fertile land divided up among the investors. The completely straight drainage canals and roads still exist today, as do the dikes and the buildings which were constructed according to a well thought out strategy. The Beemster polders reflect the dream of a renaissance of an ideal community. At the start of the 20th century the farmers of Beemster were some of the first to organise themselves into cooperatives in order to market their milk products – in this case their famous cheese.

Long before the industrial revolution, Great Britain also profited from the experiences of the Dutch. Soon after the first polder had been created, King Charles I commissioned a civil engineer by the name of Cornelius Vermuyden from Zeeland to carry out diking and land reclamation work. Vermuyden was so successful, above all in the low-lying marshlands of East Anglia that, at the end of the Civil War in the 1640s, the country's new leader Oliver Cromwell engaged him once more.
When the Dutch began one of their largest land reclamation projects during the period of industrialisation, British experience proved decisive. The Haarlemmer lake directly adjacent to Amsterdam, had to be dried out because storm floods were continually eroding the land. Indeed in 1836 they even threatened to flood the huge trading capital. The Dutch king Wilhelm I. had the choice of either pumping off the huge amounts of water with windmills which had proved their worth for centuries, or using modern steam engines. This was a tricky enterprise, for the Haarlemmer lake was about 180 square kilometres in size, around one a half times as big as the city of Amsterdam. The King opted for progress and bought in the best British technology from manufacturers in Cornwall where people had been using steam engines since their invention. He had three engines built, one of which was the largest in the world with a capacity of around 350 hp. The three steam-driven pumps ran round the clock for around three and a half years producing swathes of black cloud clouds in the process – and in 1852 the Haarlemmer lake was finally dry. That said, the pumps still had to be switched on from time to time to ensure that the new polders remain dry. The largest of the three plants later became the world's first official industrial monument.

At the time the overpopulated industrial towns had another completely different problem with water. Hundreds of thousands of people who were living close to one another had to be given access to fresh drinking water. The demand was too much for the old pipelines which were connected to far-off sources of fresh water: the rivers from which people traditionally drew water were hopelessly polluted with household and factory waste, and springs were contaminated by nearby sewage ditches. The challenge was to find a solution to removing the huge amounts of waste water and sewage produced by so many people. Epidemics of typhus and, above all, the huge waves of cholera which wiped out thousands of victims in the middle of the 19th century, finally forced municipal administrations to take action.

People now knew that the disease-causing agents were not carried by air, as was long thought to be the case, but by polluted water. In 1852 in London, people began to purify water from the Thames by means of mechanical sand filtration. This was followed by the first steps towards a controlled system of waste water disposal. But it was not until after the notorious "Year of the Great Stink" in 1858, when the stench of the Thames began to choke the breath of the noble Members of Parliament, that permanent measures were introduced to create a system of sewers. A civil engineer by the name of Joseph Bazalgette designed an extensive network of pipes in which all the waste water was collected, transported to basins east of the city, and finally dumped into the Thames. At the same time he dammed up the muddy banks of the Thames to create new land for supply pipelines.

In Paris the urban planner Georges Haussmann, who had started to radically redesign the inner city in a representative manner in 1854, also took over responsibility for water supplies. His underground network of sewers were so well conceived that they not only contained pipes for fresh water and gas, but also a network of rails for rubbish wagons. But Haussmann too diverted the sewage into the River Seine outside the city.

At that time there were already heated debates on the pollution of rivers in urban conurbations. Hygiene experts who discussed the problem at international levels quickly recognized that the self purification powers of rivers were not enough to deal with the sewage created by the people living in the dramatically growing cities. Influenced by famous scientists like Justus Liebig and Rudolf Virchow, the authorities in Berlin tried out another solution. Part of the sewage was washed into a new network of sewers, and the rest drawn out of the ditches in buckets. It was then brought to sewage farms on the edge of the city where it was cleaned up biologically, and simultaneously used by farmers as a fertiliser. The risk to people's health from eating the agricultural products grown here only later became clear.

German municipal authorities gradually began building sewage networks. The waste water would first be treated mechanically with rakes and screens, often with the addition of chemicals specially employed to break down the pollutants. Nonetheless the majority of waste water at the start of the 20th century was still let out into rivers, lakes and the sea.
The quality of drinking water supplies also left a lot to be desired. In Great Britain at the start of the 20th century chlorine began to be introduced into the water to kill off bacteria. In Germany, not even a half of all cities possessed a central system of water supplies. But in some places fresh water was brought in from reservoirs, where it had been filtered and treated before being stored, with the aid of steam driven pumps, in high-lying reservoirs or water towers. In this way it was possible to conduct water through pressurised cast iron pipes to the upper storeys of domestic buildings: the many disastrous fires in densely populated areas had taught people the vital importance of water supplies for fire-fighting. 

This historical sewage treatment plant is not an ordinary museum. Rather, it is an adventurous trip to the turn of the 19th century. Right next to the immense hall of the main building is the machine shop, four times a year witnessing the huffing and puffing of two 1903 steam engines. They are still ...
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Stará Čistírna Old Waste Water Treatment Plant
Stará Čistírna odpadních vod v Bubenči
Papírenská 6
160 00 Prague, Czech Republic

They represented the acme of European technology prior to the Industrial Revolution: the Bologna-type silk-throwing machines. Not a single of them has survived, but a half-size reconstruction in the Museum of Industrial Heritage keeps them impressingly alive. Coupled with other functional models ...
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Museum of Industrial Heritage
Museo del Patrimonio Industriale
Fornace Galotti Via della Beverara 123
40131 Bologna, Italy

Haarlemmermeer | Netherlands
King William I of the Netherlands had a choice between 240 windmills or three coastal pumping stations. He could not afford to waste time because every year violent storms beat against the banks of the Haarlemmermeer. In 1836 the ever growing lake even threatened to flood Amsterdam. So two years ...
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Steam Pumping Station De Cruquius
Cruquiusdijk 27
2142 ER Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands

A celebration of technology – that's at the heart of the Wouda Steam Pumping Station's machine room near the village of Lemmer in Friesland. The four double steam engines, coupled with powerful flywheels driving eight round centrifugal pumps, are all sparkling and gleaming as on their very first ...
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Ir. D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station World Heritage Site
Ir. D.F. Woudagemaal
Gemaalweg 1
8531 PS Lemmer, Netherlands

Zaandam | Netherlands
Creaking windmills, little wooden houses with green facades, hump-backed bridges, brand-new clogs, row and rows of cheese blocks. And water wherever you look. Zaanse Schans could come straight out of a picture book of Holland in the 17th and 18th century. Time seems to have stopped still here. The ...
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Zaanse Schans
De Zaanse Schans
Schansend 1
1509 AW Zaandam, Netherlands

Cornellà de Llobregat | Spain
The Cornellà Central Pumping Station has been providing the city of Barcelona with groundwater from a depth of around 35 metres since 1909. So much tradition is binding: hence the beautiful, ornate brick building, designed by the Catalan architect Amargós i Samaranch, now houses an industrial ...
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Museu Agbar de les Aigües
Museu Agbar de les Aigües
Ctra. de St. Boi, 4-6
08940 Cornellà de Llobregat, Spain

London | United Kingdom
This steam engine is so huge that you can walk under its beams standing upright – whilst it’s puffing away and rising and sinking. Originally it was used to pump water in west London. Now it is the pride of the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, along with eight other powerful steam engines. Six of them are ...
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London Museum of Water & Steam
Green Dragon Lane Brentford
TW8 0EN London, United Kingdom

Wildalpen | Austria
The museum, located in the noble 17th century mansion that once belonged to the owner of a hammer mill, is devoted to the history of water supply and to the achievements in constructing the Vienna spring water pipeline which was of significant importance for the water supply of city.Since 1910 the ...
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Museum HochQuellenWasser
Säusenbach 14
8924 Wildalpen, Austria

The Friedrichshagen Waterworks in Berlin was considered the largest and most modern of its kind in Europe when it was completed in 1888. Its various buildings are dispersed in a park-like setting on the bank of the Müggelsee. The principal engineer was the Englishman Henry Gill, and the buildings ...
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Friedrichshagen Waterworks Museum
Müggelseedamm 307
12587 Berlin, Germany

Lifetime Laboratory is located in the polychrome buildings of a nineteenth century waterworks on a steep hillside on the edge of Cork City. It was completed in 1863 and enlarged to take a second pumping engine in 1868. It closed during the 1970s after which many of the buildings were used for ...
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Lifetime Lab at Old Cork Waterworks
Lee Road
Cork, Ireland

The museum occupies the Dipòsits Vells (Old Cisterns) which collected and stored 12,000 m3 of water from the Sèquia canal and which were built by the civil engineer Marià Potó between 1861 and 1865. Nowadays, the museum has two permanent exhibitions spaces.The Sèquia and water: This exhibit ...
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Manresa Museum of Technology
Museu de la Tècnica de Manresa
Carretera de Santpedor, 55
08242 Manresa, Spain

Burton upon Trent | United Kingdom
Enthusiasts of steam and all the connected paraphernalia are in for a treat at this richly informative attraction in Staffordshire. This is thought to be Britain’s most complete Victorian pumping station and is crammed with tools and equipment from the period, all kept in pristine condition. There ...
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Claymills Victorian Pumping Station
Meadow Lane Stretton
DE13 0DA Burton upon Trent, United Kingdom

Jalhay | Belgium
The Gileppe dam at the confluence of the rivers Vesdre (Weser) and Getz was built in 1867-76 to supply drinking water to Eupen, parts of the Liege region and Verviers, where the woollen industry needed a supply of lime-free water. The dam was rebuilt in 1967-71 and is now 77.6 m high and 416 m long, ...
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Gileppe dam
G.T.L. Group S.C.R.L
Route de la Gileppe 55A
4845 Jalhay, Belgium

Spa gives its name to all mineral resorts with springs. The town retains the air of a resort, with parks, springs (pouhons), including the ‘Pouhon-Pierre-le-Grand’, named after Tsar Peter the Great who took the waters in 1717. It was built in 1880, with delicate cast-iron tracery. Several other ...
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Musée de la Ville d’Eaux
avenue Reine Astrid 7
4880 Spa, Belgium

Prague 4 | Czech Republic
The sparkling white water palace on the right bank of the River Vltava at Podoli is one of the most striking architectural affirmations in Europe of the benefits that a city derives from a supply of clean drinking water. The first waterworks in the area was built from 1882 for Vinohrady which until ...
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Prague Waterworks Museum
Muzeum Pražského Vodárenstvi
Podolská 15/17
14700 Prague, Czech Republic

Helsinki | Finland
Finland’s museum of technology, founded in 1969 and opened in 1975, occupies the premises built in the 1870s for the City of Helsinki Water Board, which are magnificently situated on the island called Kuninkaankartano at the mouth of the River Vantaa. The displays trace the development of ...
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Museum of Technology
Tekniikanmuseo
Viikintie 1
00560 Helsinki, Finland

Augsburg | Germany
In the mid-nineteenth century the citizens of Augsburg had a better supply of water than those of most European cities, and some of the means of delivering that supply dated from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. From 1416 artesian wells were sunk at the Rotes Tor (red gate) in the city, ...
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Watertowers close to Red Gate
Rotes Tor 1
86153 Augsburg, Germany

When Friedrich Engels, the son of a Wuppertal textile manufacturer, visited Manchester during the early years of the industrial revolution he was shocked by the working conditions in the factories. In 1848 he and Karl Marx published the “Communist Manifesto” and very soon they were known all over ...
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Ermen & Engels Power Station LVR Industrial Museum
Engels-Platz 2
51766 Engelskirchen, Germany

It bubbles, roars and sprays. Visitors to the Eifel Water Information Centre (WIZE) come up against it, even before they have entered the building. Once inside a system of pipes lead guests through the exhibition to the swish of quietly rushing water. There are presentations of water in all its ...
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The Eifel Water Information Centre in Heimbach
Karl-H.-Krischer-Platz 1
52396 Heimbach, Germany

Kochel am See | Germany
There is a 200 m difference in height between the Kochelsee and Walchensee lakes in the Bavarian Alps that was first exploited for the construction of a hydro-electric plant in 1904. From 1918 Oskar von Miller began to establish the Bayernwerke complex, linking existing plants with new generating ...
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Walchensee power station
Informationszentrum Walchenseekraftwerk
Altjoch 21
82431 Kochel am See, Germany