Water Carrier

Józef Rapacki. The Water Carrier. 1926. National Museum in Warsaw

Don’t be surprised if you meet a water carrier on the streets of Vilnius. It is a particularly important and hard profession among old Vilnius’ city dwellers and was often the job of the poorest city residents. Water supply systems were rare, and with the city’s population growth during the second half of the 19th century, Vilnius faced a water supply system shortage. For this reason, many residents cooked using water from rivers or ponds. People who lived further from bodies of water or streams and had no access to wells used the services of water carriers.

Three water supply wells were allocated for public use: near the university, on Šv. Ignoto Street and near the synagogue on Žydų Street. Water carriers took water from rivers and fountains. In fact, you would most probably refuse to try the river water – it was far from crystal clear. Since a sewage system had not yet been well developed, most wastewater would end up in the rivers. For this reason, it is not surprising that potable water was an important commodity that was often advertised, and some Vilnius city dwellers themselves advertised that they were selling boiled potable water.

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