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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. 

Mülheim an der Ruhr | Germany
Water is indispensable. For life, for power, bathwater, drinking water, you name it… The trouble is that it is not inexhaustible. It can also get polluted. That is easy to forget. But not if you pay a visit to the Aquarius Water Museum in Mülheim an der Ruhr. The museum is housed in a listed ...
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Aquarius Water Museum
Burgstraße 70
45476 Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany

Edessa | Greece
Edessa,near to Mount Pella in central Macedonia in the northern part of Greece, is built around the cascading waters of the stream called Edhessaios Potomos, from which power has been drawn for many forms of manufacturing. The town was part of the Ottoman Empire for about 500 years before it became ...
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Open air water museum
Parko Katarakton
58200 Edessa, Greece

Thessaloniki | Greece
Thessaloniki’s Water Supply Museum was established in 2001 in the former Pump House once operated by the sewage and water supply company in the western part of the city. While telling the story of the industry in the city, it also promotes the idea of saving water. Pumps, a control board and ...
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Water Supply Museum
26is Oktovriou 19
54627 Thessaloniki, Greece

Argenta | Italy
The ecomuseum at Argenta is a federation of several museums and nature reserves that interprets and provides access to some of the lands reclaimed in the delta of the River Po in the early 20th century, the work of the Renata Reclamation Consortium, including the substantial lagoons that were ...
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Ecomuseum of Argenta
Casino de Campotto
via Cadinale-Luc
Argenta, Italy

Genova/Genoa | Italy
The Museo dell’Acqua e del Gas (Museum of Water and Gas) tells the story of the two public utilities in the city of Genoa. From the early thirteenth century some of the city’s water was delivered by the Brugneto Aqueduct which has been modified many times in subsequent centuries. Coal gas production ...
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Museum of Water and Gas
Museo dell’Acqua e del Gas
Via Piacenza 54
16138 Genova, Italy

Rigas rajons | Latvia
The supply of water to the capital of Latvia has a long and interesting history. A canal was constructed to convey water from Lake Jugla in the 16th century, and in 1663 a supply system using wooden pipes was installed in the old part of the city. The first steam pumping station was built in 1863. ...
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Riga Water Supply Museum
Rigas udensapgades muzejs Suknu stacija ‘Baltezers’
Ādažu pagasts
2164 Riga, Latvia

Chişinău | Moldavia
The prominent water tower in Chişinău accommodates the city’s museum founded in 1979. The tower was designed by Alexander Bernadazzi (1831-1907), a Russian architect of Swiss-Italian origins, who is best known for his work in Odessa and was city architect in Chişinău between 1856 and 1878. It was ...
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Chişinău Water Tower
60A Mateveeci Street / 2 Mitropolit Bănulescu-Bodoni Street
2009 Chişinău, Moldavia

Once in 80 years. Or in 4000. There’s a big difference. We are talking about the danger of flooding in the area of the Schelde estuary. In 1953 it suffered a terrifying flood disaster which swept away everything. Now a modern storm surge barrier ensures that the local inhabitants can live in peace ...
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Oosterschelde storm surge barrier - Waterparc Neeltje Jans
Faelweg 5
4354 RB Vrouwenpolder, Netherlands

The museum is located in an over one hundred-year-old, thoroughly renovated building of the former intermediate sewage pumping station. The program of the tour includes also a visit to the modern buildings and equipment of the Central Sewage Treatment Plant (including a laboratory of the fully ...
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Museum of Sanitary Engineering
Muzeum Techniki Sanitarnej
Edisona 16
44-102 Gliwice, Poland

The Zawada waterworks at Karchowice in Upper Silesia has one of the most comprehensive collections in Europe of equipment used for the purification and distribution of drinking water. The works was established by the mining department of the Prussian government when Silesia was part of Germany. ...
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Historic Water Supply Station "Zawada"
Zabytkowa Stacja Wodociągowa Zawada
Bytomska 6
42-674 Karchowice, Poland

Lisbon | Portugal
The 58 km Aqueduct of Aguas Livres (free waters), built between 1729 and 1748 to supply drinking water to Lisbon is one of the greatest achievements of European engineers in the eighteenth century. It consists in all of 109 stone arches, the most spectacular of which are 29 m in span and cross the ...
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Museum of Water
Museu da Água
Rua do Alviela 12
1070-912 Lisbon, Portugal

Seixal | Portugal
Ten tide mills formerly ground grain in the area around Seixal at the mouth of the River Tagus, 14 km south of Lisbon. They all form part of the Municipal Ecomuseum, but that at Corroios which dates from the fifteenth century has been open as a museum since 1986. The displays illustrate the ...
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Tide Mill
Moinho de Maré de Corroios
Rua do Rouxinol
2840 Seixal, Portugal

St Petersburg | Russia
The centrepiece of the museum run by St Petersburg’s water supply company is a former water tower on the Neva Embankment, designed by Ivan Merts and Ernest Shubersky and completed in 1860. The museum was designed by Eugeny Podgornov and was opened in 2003. The tower itself houses displays about the ...
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Museum of Water
Shpalernay Ulitsa 56
St Petersburg, Russia

Ejea de los Caballeros | Spain
Ejea de los Caballeros is the capital of the region known as the Cinco Villas (five [small] towns), some 70 km north of the provincial capital, the city of Zaragoza. The relationship between water and agriculture is particularly important since the region is partially an endorheic basin, where water ...
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Museum of Water and Agriculture
Museo Aquagraria Ciudad del Agua
Callle Manuel Lorenzo Pardo
50600 Ejea de los Caballeros, Spain

Bath | United Kingdom
Claverton Pumping Station, alongside the Kennet & Avon Canal, 4 km from the centre of the city of Bath, lifted water from the River Avon to the canal, and is itself operated by water power. The canal, designed by John Rennie (1761-1821) opened from its junction with the River Kennet at Newbury ...
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Claverton Pumping Station
Ferry Lane Claverton
BA2 7BH Bath, United Kingdom

Brighton & Hove | United Kingdom
The British Engineerium occupies the Goldstone Pumping Station in Hove, built in the Gothic style in 1866, which was part of a water supply system devised by Thomas Hawksley (1807-93). Its first engine was a Woolf compound supplied by Easton & Amos of Southwark, London. In 1872 the water company was ...
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The British Engineerium
The Droveway
BN3 7QA Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom

Cambridge | United Kingdom
Alongside the well-known Cambridge of dreamy medieval colleges and spires, lies the first pumping station in the world powered by re-processed household waste. Before the pumping station was built in 1894, untreated sewage from Cambridge was poured directly into the River Cam. combating the ...
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Cambridge Museum of Technology
The Old Pumping Station Cheddars Lane
CB5 8LD Cambridge, United Kingdom

Downham Market | United Kingdom
Denver Sluice was designed originally in 1651 to bar tidal water from the low fen areas and to improve navigation. Denver lock is the main navigation structure linking the south Level River system to the tidal river and then to the middle level or the sea. The first sluice at Denver, constructed ...
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Denver Sluice
Denver
Downham Market, Norfolk, United Kingdom

Ely | United Kingdom
Tucked inside this tiny village, almost lost in the immense fenland landscape, is a fascinating industrial story. Prickwillow is a former diesel pumping station built to drain the fens. Man´s struggle to control this landscape took many generations and vast capital and human resources. Originally ...
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Prickwillow Engine Museum
The Museum of Fenland Drainage
Main Street Prickwillow
CB7 4UN Ely, United Kingdom

Hereford | United Kingdom
Nowadays we take the purity of tap water for granted. Yet less than 150 years ago this was the exception rather than the rule, and polluted water supplies were often the cause of disease. Life expectancy was only about 30 years in 1800; by 1900 it had risen to 50. The installation of piped, ...
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The Waterworks Museum Hereford
Broomy Hill
WR4 0LQ Hereford, United Kingdom