From the “great stench” of the nineteenth century to Covid: salvation passes through water

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Nottolini Aqueduct. Lucca. Tuscany. Italy. (Photo by: Claudio Ciabochi/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Di Maria Pia Terrosi)

The great stink, the unbearable stench, invaded London during the heat of 1858. Responsible the Thames used as a sewer and landfill for the entire city, which had doubled in half a century to two million inhabitants. That summer, thanks to a particular drought, all sorts of waste were seen passing over the foul-smelling waters of the Thames, making the air unbreathable. So much so that the same deputies tried to defend themselves by applying chloride of lime to the curtains of Westminster. And above all by deciding to equip the city with an efficient sewage system to safeguard the waters of the river, which were also the main source of water supply for Londoners.

In Italy it wasn’t much better. According to the census of 1889, less than one municipality out of two had an aqueduct and very few houses connected to the water supply: in Siena in 1860 only 0.5% of the 8,000 families enjoyed the luxury of a tap. A precarious situation that epidemics turned into tragedy. This is why the construction of the Nottolini aqueduct in Lucca was an event.

It was 1822 when the Duchess Maria Luisa di Borbone decided to bring fresh water to the city to ensure hygiene and health for the people of Lucca. Until then, in fact, only wealthy families had available healthy water that they had brought home from the surrounding hills, the poorer ones if they went to get it from the city wells, often unhealthy and contaminated.

The commission for the aqueduct was assigned to Lorenzo Nottolini, a multifaceted personality with a versatile preparation that ranged from engineering to hydraulics, from architecture to urban planning. 3.2 kilometers long and 12 meters high, the aqueduct is a neoclassical infrastructure immediately recognizable and at the same time well integrated into the landscape. A row of 459 stone and masonry arches that ends in the small circular temple of San Concordio. A building that wants to recall the idea of ​​the sacredness of water but also has precise structural and hydraulic purposes: it serves to give stability to the line of the arches and represents a sort of cistern, performing a connection function between the settling tank and the pipes convicts who brought water to the city.

Crowdfunding has just started to restore and redevelop this building, which is now heavily deteriorated “It embraces the Nottolini Aqueduct”Promoted by Unicoop Firenze and the Coop members section of Lucca. “The water in Lucca is Nottolini. The aqueduct with its imposing arches, cistern temples and numerous and elegant fountains within the urban walls, is the very essence of the city and has a profound identity value for the people of Lucca “, says Maria Fortini, president of the Coop members section of Lucca. “Hence the idea of ​​a fundraiser for the restoration. A participatory modality so that everyone can return to take possession of Nottolini’s work, of what he represented for the city and for the community ”.

Today, interrupted by the passage of the Florence-Pisa motorway, the Nottolini is no longer in operation, but the water pipes that still serve the city pass along its route. And throughout its history passes the call to the importance of water in the life of a community. Today, as then, having clean and healthy water is essential for health and economic and social development, but not taken for granted for everyone. A large part of the world population (2.2 billion people) still does not have access to drinking water, exactly as it did in 19th century Europe. And the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us that without water there is no safety.

Source: Huffington Post Italy Athena2 by

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