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September 18, 2022

Pissoirs: 20 Fascinating Photos of the Vintage Public Urinals in 19th Century Paris

Paris in the 19th century was as notorious for its noxious odors as it was for revolutionary riots. To remedy this, city prefect Rambuteau ordered the construction of public urinals. Having a simple cylindrical shape, built of masonry, open on the street side, and ornately decorated on the other side as well as the cap, they were popularly known as ‘colonnes Rambuteau‘ (‘Rambuteau columns’).

Haussmann would be instrumental in helping install pissoirs of varying styles and sizes all around Paris.

Cast iron urinals were later on introduced as part of Baron Haussmann’s remodeling of the city. A large variety of designs were produced in subsequent decades, housing two to 8 stalls, typically only screening the central portion of the user from public view, with the head and feet still visible. Screens were also added to Rambuteau columns.

At the peak of their spread in the 1930s, there were 1,230 pissoirs in Paris, but by 1966 their number had decreased to 329. During World War Two, French Resistance members used the pissoirs as places to meet for a private conversation or to leave a message for someone without the Nazis finding out. From 1980 they were replaced systematically with new technology, a unisex, enclosed, automatically self-cleaning unit called the Sanisette. By 2006, only one historic pissoir remained, on Boulevard Arago.

Another public urinal in the 19th century Paris.

These fascinating photographs were taken by one of the most notable and gifted photographers of the nineteenth century, Charles Marville. He was chosen by the city of Paris to document the changing city, especially landmarks that were built by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann.

A pissoir in Paris.

Another version of Parisian pissoirs.

The pissoirs were conceived in 1834 by Claude-Philibert Barthelot, Comte de Rambuteau.

Square des Batignolles, 1865.

Pissoir at Halles Centrales, 1875.

A larger type of pissoir.

A large, elegant pissoir located at Champs-Élysées, 1874.

A pissoir at Champs Élysées, 1875.

Public urinal at Marché aux Fleursdela Cité, 1875.

Jardin de la Bourse, 1875.

Boulevard Sébastopol, 1875.

A man using the pissoir at Chaussée de la Muette, 1875.

Place de la Madeleine, 1865.

Most of the pissoirs that Marville photographed are quite beautiful despite their lowly utilitarian purpose.

Plateau del’ambigu Boulevard du Temple, 1875.

Chaussée de la Muette, 1875.

A pissoir in 1875.

Pissoir at QuaideI’ Hôtel de Ville, 1875.

(via Rare Historical Photos)




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