All posts tagged history


Published May 11, 2014 by Tony



Really true that things we’re accustomed to every day have or see, over time they become usual and uninteresting. Yet, Italy is the only country in the world with the greatest concentration of art, churches, monuments and natural beauty. Some cities, then, like Rome or Naples, become really unique pearls that anyone would envy us. In spite of this, some people do not think twice in staining a monument or a public good, and, worst, to damage it, while administrators (who knows why?) have little interest.
For years, it is has been said that Italy could live off of private income with what the past history and culture have left us as a legacy.
We are tired of hear it again and get angry even more if those who can and should take steps to ensure that such a big and particular artistic/cultural heritage can finally bring well-being and job roles, turn a deaf ear, or even make things worse. I am referring to our government, local administrators, politicians and institutions, of course.
Crisis, lack of employment, but it sounds strange that no one put tourism at the first place or thinking what we could get by it.
Another thing that personally bothers me, is the “continuous” and ” endless ” work in progress that spoil the view and often do not allow tourists and visitors to fully enjoy a site. Then, prohibited areas and premises permanently closed to the public for some kind of incurable reasons, which does not allow us to see works and places that should, however, be in the public domain, and a source of pride for having been put on display. I can’t explain myself this, even if only by chance I made a trip of a few kilometers and took advantage of a weekend, but how can we explain this to a Japanese tourist who came to Italy to visit that place after a long journey and having endured many expenses, and that probably never can come back in Italy!

We were still talking about neglect of Pompeii and now is the turn of the “Realm of Caserta”, as we call it.
Just to show arrogance and abuse of our administrators, it is the case of the Italian Garden in Caserta’s Royal Palace and the politician Nicola Cosentino. Despite this wonderful garden with waterfall shows significant signs of neglect and has long been closed (indefinitely!) to visitors, this has not prevented Cosentino to use it for his morning exercises. In fact, the former undersecretary of “Forza Italia” party had the garden’s key to enter and make jogging, thanks to the Prefect of Caserta.

This sumptuous and historic residence of the Bourbons of Naples, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1997, is a monumental complex which occupies 45,000 square meters, and with its five floors it reaches a height of 36 meters, with 1,200 rooms and 34 staircases.
In the Palace various places are closed indefinitely, as the hall of the Nativity of Neapolitan ‘600 and ‘700, as many portions of the park are inaccessible. Many rooms are not open to the public while others are not ever been open to all.
A recent news that in the west of the Palace a portion of the roof collapsed.
The Ministry of assets and cultural activities and tourism (Mibact) has provided approximately € 22 million of funding for the restoration of the facades of which the first batch from 9 million has already been allocated. Since last year, the four facades of the Palace are cordoned off and pending for the restoration work. The whole Royal Palace and its magnificent garden are in a state of neglect, despite the museum complex can count on 340 committed employees who must or should control 130 acres of parkland and 70 rooms. From 2001 to 2013, the center has recorded almost 50 % fewer visits, which go from 812 811 to 439 813, according to data published by the Mibact. After reading this, I hope that most Italians will be pissed off as I am !


Published January 13, 2014 by Tony


Penne's palace

Palazzo Penne is a Renaissance building in Naples, built by Antonio Penne, located in the Piazzetta Teodoro Monticelli, in that narrow blind alley that leads to the long and narrow “Scalea del Pennino” in the Sedile “Porto”.
Antonio Penne, so named because coming from the town of Penne in Abruzzo, belonged to a wealthy bourgeois family, and in 1391 he became secretary and special adviser to the king Ladislaus of Anjou (Naples 1374-1414), son of Margherita of Durres, nephew of the Queen Joanna I. His prestige at court became so high till to obtain permission to erect his own memorial in Santa Clara’s church, exclusive place for Angevin nobility, where today, in a chapel we can still admire his tomb.
Once this property was famous for a legend that hovered over, while in the last centuries a total negligence led it to ruin.

Penne's tomb


Palazzo Penne was built in 1406 and the area where it is located is called “Pennino” (meaning slope), because it was a small hill where the road surface was about 5 meters lower than now, a place that at the time was considered healthy, and safe against flooding landslides.
The year of manufacture can be inferred from the inscription on a plaque above the arch at the entrance of the building: “XX anno regni regis Ladislai sunt domus haec facte nullo sint turbine fracie mille fluunt magni bistres centum quater anni.” The inscription arranges a single block with the Anjou-Durres’ coat of arms. The concession of the sovereign to embellish the building with weapons and symbols of the royal family, as well as the approval of Penne’s blazon, signified the eternal protection to the family Penne.

The facade  is made with ashlar rusticated “piperno” alternated with “soft stone of the mountain”, referred to as “piperino tuff”, which is actually trachyte: a compact yellowish rock. The pediment is formed by arches called “flaming Gothic” with the crown of King Ladislaus in the first order, and below the Cross of Jerusalem, Majorca’s coat of arms (poles), and the stripes of Durres’ lineage. In the ashlar frame you see the “feathers”, symbol of the house in three rows, topped by Angevin lilies in seven rows, in honor of King Ladidslao. In the middle of the arch, a composition represents the religious and superstitious spirit of Antonio Penne: the stylized clouds from which come out some beams (the divine light) with two hands holding a tape containing two engraved lines of Martial (against evil eye) “Avi Ducis Vultu Sinec Auspicis Isca Libenter Omnibus Invideas Tibi Nemo” (you, who do not turn your face and do not look at this building willingly or envious, envy everyone well, no one envies you). The door is oak, although altered over the centuries, is one example of craftsmanship with steel spikes, iron studs called “Peroni”, consisting of the original arches of the Gothic period.
The inner courtyard is decorated with a beautiful five-arched portico with a lovely garden still partly preserved. Originally, in the courtyard there were sixteen stables, while the beautiful porch was adorned with statues of the Roman period, all remodeled in 1740 and then covered up by the construction of the janitor’s home, as well as the “Majestic Arch” which remains only a track in the wall. In the apartment on the first floor there were two rooms, one looking out on the porch and another on a courtyard that led into the park, all with frescoed ceiling. In the courtyard there was a spiral staircase that led to the basement that were below the level of the building. A scale of piperno led to the second floor, where there was a large terrace with a balustrade still made with piperno.

After Antonio Penne’s death, the building passed to his nephew Onofrio, as long as the last heirs sold it to the family Rocco or Rocca, and finally in 1558, to Aloisia Scannapieco Capuano who in turn gave it to her son Giovanni Geronimo, married with Lucretia de Sangro.
In 1685 the house was purchased by the Order of the Somascan Fathers, the nearby church of Saints Demetrius and Bonifacio. The fathers Somascan modified it according to their needs and transforming it in novitiaten and cells for the Fathers. The transformations occupied nearly a century, new houses were built in the garden area, while part of the cellars, adjacent to the Church of Santa Barbara, were transformed into shops and other flats. The final annihilation of the ancient structure happened with the destruction of the top floor’s roof. With the arrival of the French, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, and with the abolition of religious orders in 1806, the building was put up for sale and became the property of the abbot Teodoro Monticelli, noble barons of Cerreto, a volcanologist.
After his death in 1845, the assets were sold to the University of Naples, while the watchman Saverio Monticelli remained, the grandson of Theodore. In memory of Monticelli was a plaque on the first floor of the building, commissioned by the Civic Administration in 1909. In 2002, the Region of Campania bought the building for 10 billion lire, held by a private possession who had transformed the building into a “bed and breakfast” . The palace was then transferred on loan to “University Orientale” in 2004. The project involved the construction of laboratories, rooms for seminars or conferences, and services for students. Work on the renovation of the building that never initiated by the presence of squatters in the building. In 2007, the intellectuals Alda Croce e Marta Herling, daughter and granddaughter of the philosopher Benedetto Croce, obtained the suspension of the squatters works inside the building for the construction of some housing units by the occupants (who resumed work despite the ban). To no avail the appeals of the President of the Republic and UNESCO for the start of restoration work. On 20 May 2008 the investigations requested by UNESCO through the Italian judiciary, were concluded, and among the defendants the governor Antonio Bassolino and the then dean Pasquale Ciriello, for the non-restorative intervention against an artifact of historical and artistic interest. In November 2009, the Prosecutor has requested the dismissal of the process, giving the opportunity to the Public Prosecutor to appeal to the prosecution, if the case. In 2013, all the defendants in the trial, for damage to property of historical interest, were acquitted by the Tribunal of Naples because the crime does not exist. The agreement between the Region and the last two individuals, illegally occupying the building and to which it has been procured an alternative residence, has allowed to finally put the entire building under the supervision of the Region and the University Orientale, which must agree to the restorative intervention and the intended use. In November 2008, work  for the safety of the building has begun, to prevent further deterioration, as a new abusive attack, nipped in the bud by the Superintendent and the City of Naples, took place in the early months of 2009 when an adjoining hotel was taking possession of the garden.
For now, the only certainty is the decay and neglect that still prevail in the building.

”Beelzebub’s building”

As soon as the noble Antonio Penne come to Naples with the French entourage, he fell in love with a beautiful Neapolitan young girl.
Having too many offers of marriage and the next day to give an answer to other suitors, the damsel replied that she maybe would agree only if the Penne had built, for the next morning, a building equal to her beauty, as a pledge of love and wedding gift. Sure that he had not been able to fulfill such an absurd request because, alas, she already had chosen the man to marry.
Aware that he could not cope with such an impossible request, it is said that to just to have a change, the nobleman asked for help to the devil, Beelzebub, who accepted in exchange for Penne’s soul. Antonio accepted by signing with his own blood, but reserving the right to insert an irrelevant clause that he would reveal in the end.

At midnight the evil forces began their work, and at dawn and the building was ready. At this point Beelzebub asked him about the last clause and Antonio explained it: he would have sprinkled many grains of wheat in the courtyard, and the devil would have to pick up and count them all, and if he had missed even one of them, the agreement was no longer valid. Said than done, when the devil counted the grains their number wasn’t exact, because Antonio  deliberately had mixed them with pitch, and inevitably some of them stuck under Beelzebub’s nails. This one protested demanding for his soul, but Antonio made the sign of the cross obliging the devil to sink in the courtyard, where today it is said that there is a well.



Published January 11, 2014 by Tony

Old Administrative Institutions in Naples

In Naples, the “Sedili” (Seats), also called Seggi o Piazze (Squares), were in force from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, and they were administrative institutions of the city, whose representatives, known as Eletti (Elects), met in the convent of San Lorenzo to take decisions about the civil administration for the common good of the City. The first six seats were attended only by the nobility, while the citizens had their own representatives in the seventh Seat.
The Sedili became extinct in 1800 due to an edict of King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, who abolished their functions. In 1808, after Joachim Murat’s reforms, the functions and responsibilities of the seats were assigned to the new Municipality institution (City Hall), with the election of the first mayor. Despite the abolition of these local administrative units, the names of some of them, still indicate the area (neighborhood) where these old Sedili were.




Coat of Arms



The name derived from the surname of an influential family.

Via Tribunali



So named cause it was situated in a high part of the city.

Via Tribunali



In neapolitan this name refers to the shape Y, a symbol that was the emblem of the nearby school of Pythagoras. The motto of this Seat was: “For good agendum sumus,” (we were born to do good). This seat was merged with Montagna’s seat.

Via Forcella



So named for the presence of the statue of the Nile River and in memory of traders Alessandrini, who dwelt therein.

Piazzetta Nilo



So called because it was near the ancient port of Naples.

Via Mezzocannone



So named because, during the Greek time, the city’s walls were enlarged and a new entrance was built near the sea.

Piazza Portanova



So named because it represented not-aristocratic people of the city. Representatives could only report people’s complaints and actively participate in street festivals or religious processions. They were chosen among the middle class (doctors, writers, lawyers, notaries, merchants, etc.)

Largo della Selleria (current Piazza Nicola Amore)




Published September 22, 2012 by Tony


From the earliest civilizations to the present day, personal hygiene, sanitation and the way in which certain “bodily functions” were performed, have changed substantially.
With regard to such important but inconvenient “physiologic activities”, from the Renaissance onwards the reserve becomes so great that people had to invent some “vulgar” terms to call them, as shit, piss, etc., while generally they remain vague, simply and generically stated as “corporal acts”. Instead, in writing or officially are used a few scientific terms like urinating and defecating.
The same applies to the “place” used to dump them, commonly and improperly  called “toilet” or “bathroom”, as to hide their primary function, with some foreign term that became very common, as “toilet”  (or toilette, French term dating back to 1681 to indicate, more generally, body care and laundry), or the English term “WC” (water-closet, to indicate the siphon system, from which then, the term Italianized of ‘vater’ ). In Italian, some vulgar terms outlast, as “cesso” (from the Latin word “cedere” which means to go off or to seclude), or the old “latrine” (from the Latin lavatrina, laundry or bathroom). Our civilization has always thought to the toilet as a private place, a secluded one where not all are able to pursue their own physiological needs in the presence of other people.
Yet, from Neanderthal man to the Middle Ages, things were just different!
Due to lack of data it is difficult and sometimes impossible to determine which basic knowledge of hygiene existed on that time.
Certainly, it is easy to imagine that for primitive men some word like shame and discretion did not make sense and, in the absence of any inhibitions the incontinence had to even be the norm, while they squatted on the ground at any time for the few minutes it takes to rid the gut.
About Egyptians, by hieroglyphics and objects found in the tombs, we knows that there was a legislation about hygiene, along with a rudimentary medical science. There were exact precepts for burial, prescriptions on how to keep homes clean, rules for food, sexual relations, etc…. Alike Babylonian medicine, it was a combination of empirical rationalism, mysticism and religious requirements.
Although the first evidence of the existence of soap dates back to 2800 BC. and comes from the excavations of ancient Babylon, the papyrus of Hebe in 1500 BC. already describes the method of producing a soap used by the Egyptians, combining animal fat or vegetable oil with a salt called “trona” which was collected in the Nile valley. At the time of the Greeks, the physician Galen recommended the use of soap to clean and as a preventive method of certain diseases. Even in Europe there was a production of soap made by Gauls and Teutons, perhaps similar to the one used by Celtic peoples, while Romans had to import it from Gaul. At the time of the Egyptians, people made their physiologic needs outdoor in small holes (free spaces weren’t lacking), then covering them. Obviously to pharaohs, priests and upper castes were reserved specific private rooms and tools, while we know that Cleopatra was already using the gold pots covered with velvet.
Greeks are famous for their fragrant bathing but had no toilets or public latrines, and all had to deposit their own excrements wherever they could, and so it was common to piss next to a column or a wall. For this, a suitable decree forbade to urinate and defecate in temples and in important public places, at least. I suppose that for those people, every way was appropriate to clean themselves, perhaps waiting to go back at home or to have water on hand.

Romans gave great importance to the “bodily acts” and were masters in this too. Famous their huge aqueducts and the sewer (cloaca maxima) that developed in the subsoil of Rome. Fountains, pools, thermae and latrines, equipped with running water, were in common use in the Roman Empire. Each noble had its own personal latrine inside or outside, even if made only of a simple hole in the soil but with a drain connected to a small black pit in the ground.

In those days there were no undergarments and it only needed to raise the robe, while in public toilets everyone could be naked and there were special containers of water with sponges tied to one handle, used to wipe the butt without getting the hands dirty. Hygienically, this was not the best, but for those who had a private sponge this system was better than leaves, grass, corn, soil or even stones used by various civilizations, over the centuries, to clean their buttox outdoor. In Rome, public latrines were large rectangular or semi-circular rooms with marble seats along the walls, with holes on the top and the drains for water below.
Although the room had to be shared and seats next to one another, for Romans was normal getting together to defecate, as well as bathing or massage  all together at the thermae (under the auspices of the goddess Hygeia, which the term hygiene comes). Latrine often was a place to meet, to talk, to do business or for having quick sexual encounters. We find drains and sewers only for public latrines, while dwellings, houses or villas had wells blacks, or failing that, the excrements were placed in special containers and thrown away in the street. People or plebs was perhaps less accustomed to frequent washing and it is assumed that they do not always went to the public toilets to pee. Things got worse for the slaves who had the duty to clean the latrines and empty the wells blacks. Even to the borders of the empire, near the fortifications around Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, were found huge latrines with running water which carried away the droppings, while at every stop of marching armies, flying latrines were prepared for the troops.
Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) puts a tax on urine collected from individuals. In fact, the urine was used by laundry shops to obtain and sell ammonia with which the woolen cloth were dealt, and that together the vinegar were also useful to prepare firefighting solutions. For this reason, the shopkeepers  placed outside their shops one container in which every passerby could freely urinate at open air, which is why, centuries later, the public urinal was called “vespasian”. But the first examples of sewers date back even to 3000 BC and have been found in the Indus Valley (Mohenjo-Daro), between the present India and Pakistan, while the first real historical evidence of a toilet with clean water dates back to the time of King Minos on the island of Crete, around to 1700-2000 BC. It was made of ceramic and wood, with a culvert that carried the dregs to the river.

In the Middle Ages, the chamber pot, that had already made its appearance in Roman times, was still being used and shamelessly people did their needs in front of the others. At least until the early Middle Ages, the sense of personal hygiene was very much alive and the custom of bathing was widespread. There were public baths and spa rooms that allowed men to meet and relax in a pleasant environment. The fashion of the bathroom and latrine construction, a sign of the roman cultural heritage, on that time were more or less common throughout Europe.
Oddly enough, in later years, not only there were no improvements, but the situation deteriorated and even the hygiene!
Enlightened people of the moment and the Church were not blameless.
For this, the Middle Ages in general, is considered a dark century where hygienic conditions are decaying, and leading to the spread of many diseases, including some serious one such as typhus and the plague of the 14th century. The use of the “chamber pot” (copper or terracotta) takes over, while the public toilets will slowly disappear. The water, which for the previous civilizations was an important element of cleanliness and hygiene, in this century becomes a dangerous enemy, instead.
The fact that there is no life without water and that it’s the water bringing things to rot and putrefy, brought scientists of the time to think  that the bathing or prolonged washing, opening the pores, weakened the human body and predisposing to diseases and infections.  Leonardo wrote, “the water penetrates all the porous bodies.”
Bathing made people sluggish and weak, and because of this, after having had a bath most people dressed with clean clothes and tried to stay at home or in bed. Even fresh water was a worry and someone preferred to drink water added with wine or sweetened by aromatic substance, if not the wine itself, instead.  A St. Paul’s Epistle admonishes Timothy to stop drinking water and use the wine, and this mistrust is taken from the medical concepts of that time and from a whole series of fragments of folk wisdom that enhance the wine as the blood of man, as stimulant and antidote to various diseases, giving to the water the power to shorten life and cause sadness and melancholy. The wine is even recommended for children, more of the milk itself. The wine eliminates bad moods in adults, worms in children and more (from Pasteur on, then it also will kill microbes). Proverbs and Sayings bloomed in abundance:
“Good wine does good blood,”
“Two fingers of wine are a kick to the doctor,”
“Wine is the milk of the old”
“Wine is the blood of man,”
“The wine lengthens the life, water shortens the years,”
“The water is bad, wine makes you sing.”
At that time there were two philosophies about diseases, there were those who believed that they were transmitted through contact with objects or people who are sick, and those who believed it was enough to breathe unhealthy, fetid, or stinking air to get sick. The water, in any case, facilitated the spread of the infections. For this reason, only the most visible and exposed part of the body, like hands, feet and face were washed more often, sometimes only with a damp cloth, while clothes had the task to protect and keep the body clean, absorbing the dirt. Over time it came to have only two “official” bathes during the existence, one before marriage and another after the death, and both representing the beginning of a new phase. Usually marriage took place in June while the annual bathe in May. Since each spouse began to stink, the bride got into the habit of carrying with her a bouquet to cover the smell during the marriage. Hence the custom for brides to carry a bouquet.
When it happened to take a bath at home, the first to jump in the container was the man followed by older children, then women, lastly children and babies. All this, of course, without water changes and that is why in the end  the water was so dirty and black that it was not uncommon to hear the phrase, “Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater!”
Another issue was not so much the amount or the transport of the water from the wells to the house, but its heating. During travels, gentlemen carried everything necessary for the bath and there was usually a servant who took care. During summertime, the wood hot tub was placed outside in the garden, while near a fireplace in winter. In wintertime only the rich could afford enough wood to heat the water, and so the majority of the population resorted to the bath only during the warm season. The gentlemen had special bowls, bigger with more seats, covered with cloth or velvet and made use of flowers and herbs. Common people had to make do with a simple cask, cut on the top.
Water, beyond be disliked by science, became a moral danger also for the Church. It was something sinful, so much so that St. Catherine of Siena did not walk where there was water for fear of sinning. St. Jerome discouraged any persons, especially young girls, to bathe as not to expose the naked body; San Benedetto often said that those who were in good health, and especially young people, had not to bath. Saint Agnes died at thirteen without ever having washed herself. In particular, washing private parts could lead to temptation, and even centuries to come, among country women survived the conviction that “washing below, or “touching” some part of the body were sinful.
Christianity and filth marched hand in hand because prevailed the principle that the baptized person did not need any other purificatory and, as many asserted, the Christian religion took care for the health of the soul and not of the body. For the Church, even public latrines were considered ambiguous and places of perdition, and, in this regard, St. Boniface called them “hotbeds of vice,” while St. Benedict “dens of the devil.”
In the lack of respect for public latrines and in the absence of sewerage systems or small pits blacks, the easiest way to eliminate the scum was “set et simplicter” throwing everything out of the house. And, in fact, at least in the cities, streets and alleys became the receptacle of shit and urine. Every morning there was no house from which from the door or window the chamber pots were emptied by the scream: <Look out! >
In the morning, even if it was not raining, it was not unusual to see people walking around with an open umbrella. In the summer especially, the air in the streets might not be very pleasant and only in the countryside the excrements were used as manure. It was even customary to feed the farm animals with excrement. In urban areas crossed by rivers, while they boasted streets cleaner and less smelly, on the other hand the water was infected and polluted because everything was thrown in the rivers.  For years, this situation led to an increase in infectious diseases, especially in the big and populated cities. In urban areas of England one in two children died before their fifth birthday because of tuberculosis, typhoid, dysentery, cholera and other infectious diseases. In 1348, the first wave of the Black Death that hit England in the county of Dorset, led to the death of one third of the population, while rats and fleas thrived between dirt and trash.
In the Middle Ages it was normal to drink 3 to 4 liters of wine a day, because alcohol disinfected, while the water at disposal wasn’t sure. The Commissioner for Health in London, Edwin Chadwick, showed that most poor people died because of the terrible conditions in which they lived, improving their living conditions would have lived longer. Nobles and rulers reacted negatively. Then, when they too began to die of cholera, (with the London epidemic of 1849) began to realize that their health was correlated with the environment, and therefore to be agree with what Chadwick advocated, namely: “Air, Water and Electricity” for all, irrespective of caste.

In the end of the Middle Ages, there was hardly any house or person without a chamber pot. They ranged from a simple metal carafe to keep under the bed, to the most comfortable and suitable wooden seats (commodes), with classic keyhole-shaped (useful for men to urinate while sitting), with in a removable container below. In nobles and kings homes the luxury even brought to artistic seat-throne on which be sat also while receiving guests. We read that Louis XIV (1638-1715) announced his marriage, while he was sitting in his luxurious  and comfortable “toilet-throne” in the royal hall. It is said that the Duke of Beaufort, Monsieur de Vendome (1616-1669), even wiped his butt while the bishop of Parma was in his presence during a negotiations, and that’s why he went away angry. In 800, Richard Ginori had in catalog many types of pots, which were normally part of the trousseau. In the courtyards or in small countries the WC still were narrow wooden cabins with a small hole in the bench and with a channel or ditch below. In the castles was not unusual to find small latrines made of stone protruding from the external walls, so that the excrements fell directly on the ground below.
About personal hygiene, shaving was difficult and painful and so infrequent as razors were simple knives for carving or chopping meat, often old and not sharp. The haircut was not easy because the scissors were small pincers which tore up instead of cutting. Only a few aristocrats in the thirteenth century had toothbrushes and usually they rubbed green wood of hazel onto the teeth and then a woolen cloth. The combs were quite common and the mirrors had a functional and decorative use. We also find descriptions of the use of decorated fingernails and about the cleaning of the ears, also if we can assume that not many people could afford these objects. A fifteenth century etiquette advised the nobles to accept the parasites as a natural fact, but “not scratching their heads or remove lice, fleas or other parasites and kill them in the presence of other people.” Better pieces of soap were available only after the twelfth century, and generally consisted of mutton fat, wood ash or potash and soda natural. Sometimes it also were added herbs. The soaps prepared in the south of France and Italy contained olive oil, soda and small quantities of cedar. To wash and whiten clothes, women often used a solution of lye (a liquid solution, obtained by boiling sifted ashes of good quality) together soil white clay. Only in the seventeenth century the hygiene and the habit to bathe came back into vogue in Europe, while the trade of soap became so profitable to push in 1622, King James I of England to grant a monopoly of its production for the equivalent of 100,000 euro per year. In the following centuries, the use of soap became quite common in all strata of the population. To meet these new requirements, manufacturers worked to find methods that would allow a large-scale production. Almost until the end of the nineteenth century, soap was the only detergent with surfactant properties. The history of synthetic detergents began only in the twentieth century, when the shortage of some basic materials for the production of soap (fats during the First War, and of oils during World War II) stimulated the search for synthetic alternatives.
Paradoxically, to defeat certain diseases,  the action of water and soap were most decisive than the intervention of doctors and medicines. Hygiene, in fact, played a decisive action towards intestinal diseases (gastroenteritis, typhoid fever, dysentery), and in diseases transmitted from person to person (as in the case of typhus due to lice).
While waiting for the water-closed, the chamber pot was necessary until a few years ago, and the first true prototype of what would later become the future toilet was only invented in 1596 by the godson of Queen Elizabeth I, John Harrington. It was placed in the rooms of the Queen and consisted of a seat with a water tank over, openable by a tap and a trapdoor valve, which let then drain away the sewage in a cesspool below. Sir Harington called it Ajax (from the Greek name of Ajax that in English sounds like “a jakes” or “latrine”) and the cost was only 6 shillings and 8 pence. But he was so proud of his invention who mentioned it in a book and the Queen indignantly got rid of it, thus the invention did not have the success it deserved. For large-scale production will need to wait another 200 years or so.

In 1738, JF Brondel resumed Harington’s invention and put forward some changes. The English watchmaker Alexander Cummings, in 1775, improved the invention with the addition of a siphon at the level of the valve, which, thanks to the continuous presence of water,  eliminated definitively the problem of smells, enjoying a great success. Other technological improvements have been made in 1777 by Joseph Preiser and others followed until 1883, when in France made its appearance the “WC” as we know it today. Meanwhile, in many countries, the toilet called “turkish” had a great widespread, because in this way people got rid of health problems. It consists in a simple hole in the ground where people had to squat simply. In 1739, in Paris, separated toilets for men and women appeared, while in 1824 the first public toilet.
Only in 1886 the Englishman Thomas Crapper (hence the term “crap” derives) invented the water tank above the seat, which thanks to a number of levers and a tie with one iron chain, it was possible to flush the toilet.
For security reasons, these toilets were banned in the prisons.
But the success of the WC came with the creation of a large underground sewer system that, starting from the big cities, involved slowly every town. Some sewers, such as those in London, became known because so large as to be used as an escape and refuge for thieves, prostitutes and gamblers.
In 1710 also the bidet made his first appearance (French term for pony, by analogy with the position to take sitting on it), installed in the apartments of the king of France after its inventor Monsieur Christophe Des Rosiers. Only in the twentieth century then became an object of common use in many countries (paradoxically, it is not widespread in France where he was born, but also in England, Africa, United States, Asia and the Middle East). In 1890, in America, thanks to Scott Paper Company, makes its appearance the toilet paper roll.

If someone asked us “what invention has deeply changed the modern civilization”, our response will probably be different from person to person, but only a few would mention the essential toilet, for sure!