The images that come to mind when we talk about the Middle Ages are ladies dressed in exquisite costumes and gentlemen with superlative elegance. But, the question arises, what was hygiene like in the Middle Ages? With huge palaces, like Versailles, that had no bathrooms and no drains for water to flow.
Hygiene customs in the Middle Ages
Until the 19th century, fluids were poured into the streets, and the first thing we imagine is that the streets must smell very bad. We can start with Ancient Rome, where there were many public baths. However, with the adoption of Christianity as a religion, public baths were closed, as nudity was considered a sin. This fact changed everything.
When the Middle Ages arrived, the custom, almost exclusive to the upper class, was to take a bath every few months. However, this custom was in force during the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries they avoided bathing. Louis XIV, called the Sun King, only took a maximum of two baths throughout his entire life. Water, for him, was very unpleasant.
So much so, that there were no bathrooms in the houses and palaces. The most significant example is the fabulous Palace of Versailles, since its facilities did not include a single latrine. It is worth mentioning that bathrooms, as we know them today, only began to be built at the end of the 19th century.
Quite peculiar customs that surprise
What did people who lived in or visited the Palace of Versailles or other palaces do? Well, there were long hallways with large curtains that reached to the floor. There, hidden behind these curtains, people could defecate or urinate. Today, in some wings of the Palace you can still feel the fetid stench left by that custom.
Waste from palaces and houses ended up in the streets, since sewage was non-existent. For that reason, and out of necessity, they used wide-brimmed hats. Human waste was thrown from the windows of the homes, directly into the street. These hats prevented suffering a more than uncomfortable accident. Fans also imposed their fashion for convenience, they helped reduce the stench.
It was during that time in the Middle Ages that the perfume industry became popular. They used it to disguise the odors of the human body due to lack of hygiene. Although this custom was only available to the upper class. It was also the time of splendor of perfumers and some were true works of art.
Due to the lack of hygiene added to the precariousness of medicine at that time, the population was more prone to diseases. Likewise, life expectancy was much lower than today.