In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • A Tale of Three Thirsty Cities: The Innovative Water Systems of Toledo, London and Paris in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century by Jaime-Chaim Shulman
  • Karel Davids (bio)
A Tale of Three Thirsty Cities: The Innovative Water Systems of Toledo, London and Paris in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century
By Jaime-Chaim Shulman. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. 398.

Water supply systems are a convenient yardstick for comparing societies’ technological capabilities. After all, no society can survive for long without effective arrangements for the regular provision of water. Jaime-Chaim Shulman has studied water supply projects in three European cities in the sixteenth century. He thus contributes both to our knowledge of building urban water supply systems in the early modern period and insight into how city authorities under different political regimes handled large-scale public works. While his focus is early modern Europe, Shulman contextualizes his subject by devoting a long introductory chapter to water-lifting devices, from Graeco-Roman times and the early Islamic world, to Italy and Germany during the Renaissance. He provides an almost exhaustive overview of aqueducts, norias, Archimedean screws, force pumps, inclined planes, and other water-raising mechanisms described in “theatres of machines” published in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

At the heart of A Tale of Three Thirsty Cities are the next three chapters [End Page 953] discussing new water supply systems built in the most populated cities of Spain, England, and France between 1560 and 1620: in Toledo Juanelo Turriano constructed the Artificio, which lifted water from the Tajo river almost one hundred meters up to Alcázar palace; in London, Peter Morris built waterworks that pumped water from the Thames under London Bridge to a network of wooden pipes for consumption in the city; and in Paris, Jean Lintlaër erected the “Samaritaine” engine, pumping water from the Seine under Pont Neuf bridge to the nearby Louvre and Tuileries palaces and gardens. One of the strengths of Shulman’s study is his meticulous reconstruction of how these engines worked, who funded them, how they functioned over time and their impact, if any, on the development of water-supply technology in general. For this purpose, in an exemplary manner the author combines written, printed, and beautifully reproduced pictorial sources.

However greatly contemporaries and posterity admired these ingenious devices and the engineer-entrepreneurs who constructed them, these systems nevertheless did not quench the cities’ thirst. The machines in Toledo and Paris only served the needs of royal households, while the waterworks in London almost exclusively provided water to fee-paying citizens. For their water supply, most of the populations depended on wells, fountains, and water carriers. Still, the comparison between the three projects, as Shulman rightly points out in his conclusion, reveals the crucial importance of political and financial factors in the construction and upkeep of water supply systems. While the King in Paris and the city government in London showed an enduring commitment to support the new projects, the royal and municipal authorities in Toledo were from the very beginning at odds about who should fund and maintain the new waterworks. Ultimately, Turriano died penniless and his Artificio was in ruins by 1640.

There are some puzzling aspects, however, regarding Shulman’s selection of cases and the way he contextualizes his subject. Given his aim to shed light on the attitudes of city authorities to water supply systems, why does he only compare cities in kingdoms? This choice is even harder to understand, as the engineers who designed the new supply systems were foreigners. Turriano hailed from Italy, Morris and Lintlaër came from the Low Countries. As the author reminds us, this finding underscores the vital role of human mobility in the cross-border transfer of knowledge, but it also begs the question why these specialists did not originate from Spain, England, or France. This is all the more intriguing, as the same observation applies to the experts in land reclamation, who Shulman briefly discusses by way of comparison. Yet, this issue is neither addressed in the conclusion nor in the introduction, which purports to put the development of water-lifting technology in...