The author examines how cities have dealt with the problem of waste management from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Contemporary accounts and historiography have handed down forceful images of decay and filth. What solutions have been implemented in order to improve such offensive and hazardous situations? Urban hygiene controls have a long history which has accompanied all phases of urban growth: the medieval city, with its statutes and strong communal power; the great and apparently unmanageable capitals of the modern age; the paleo-technical city, which transformed its productive, social and urban orders under the pressure of the industrial revolution. Urban waste management has been a meeting ground for different types of knowledge, techniques and administrative structures; it has supplied food for thought to the emerging discipline of urban studies, systems of municipal government and the difficult transfer of technical progress to a field of human activity which has received little attention from the worlds of science, technology and industry.
Ercole Sori teaches Economic History in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Ancona.