June 20, 2014

The "garderobe" was the first bathroom…and be sure to guard your robes!

Over at the Smithsonian, Jimmy Stamp takes a look at the history of the bathroom. As you may know, in the Middle Ages, folks kept chamber pots in their bedrooms to poop and pee in, then threw the contents out the window. This led to greater—and grosser?—things:
Garderrobe photo by Basha!
During the 11th-century castle-building boom, chamber pots were supplemented with toilets . . .  integrated into the architecture. 
These early bathrooms, known as “garderobes” were little more than continuous niches that ran vertically down to the ground, but they soon evolved into small rooms that protruded from castle walls . . . historian Dan Snow notes: “The name garderobe—which translates as guarding one's robes—is thought to come from hanging your clothes in the toilet shaft, as the ammonia from the urine would kill the fleas." 
. . . the garderrobe actually had a strong resemblance to an aspect of a castle’s defenses. And it works in the same basic way: gravity. And while the garderobe was actually a weak spot in a castle’s defenses, woe be the unassuming invader scaling a castle wall beneath one. 
Several designs emerged to solve the problem of vertical waste disposal—some spiral up towers, for example, while some were entire towers; some dropped waste into cesspools, moats, and some just dropped it onto the ground below. Not all medieval compounds were okay with merely dumping excrement onto the ground like so much hot oil.

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