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The Public Urinal That Proved Paris is the World's Most Modern City


Photo: Charles Marville/Musee Carnavalet/Roger-Viollet

Well, in 1876 when the photo above was taken by photographer Charles Marville, Paris certainly was the most modern city in the world.

In the early 1850s, Napoleon III commissioned urban planner Baron Georges-Eugene Haussman with the task of making Paris the most modern city in the world. Back then, the city was just as it was during Medieval times. It didn't have a sewer system, so people would simply throw waste out onto the street.

As part of the modernization effort, Haussman installed outdoor facilities including pissoirs or public urinals for men shown above. These crude structures don't look like much today, but it got the job done. It had no roof, but it provided privacy where it was needed, and it was certainly better than urinating on the streets.

Charles Marville, the photographer who snapped the photo above, was commissioned to document Haussman's transformation of Paris. His photographs are currently on display National Gallery of Art. Curator Sarah Kennel talked to Susan Stamberg of NPR about the photos that Marville took - read and listen to the story over at NPR's The Picture Show.


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