The 'old days' were not very long ago. In our parents,' grandparents' or great-grandparents' childhood (depending upon how old we are) the main means of locomotion was by foot, horseback, or horse and cart or wagon and for a few, the steam engine.
My grandfather was born in 1896 and lived to be 98 years old. In his lifetime he saw the adoption of the motorized vehicle (cars, trucks, motorcycles, motor scooters) as the main means of getting from one place to another on land other than foot or bicycle. He heard of the introduction of the the airplane when the machine could carry only one passenger, Mr. Wright, until the time when airplanes could carry hundreds of passengers, and he watched on television the first steps in the exploration of outer space. He saw the introduction of moving pictures (cinema), radio, television, the telephone, and the computer. And, I have not mentioned advances in medicine, genetics, and other important fields.
We who are younger have a difficult time imagining that a short time before the year '0' B.U. (Before Us) life was dramatically different, and had been different for literally thousands of years. And, that 0 B.U. was a very short time ago, which brings me to the subject of water fountains.
Today water fountains, of which Neuchâtel has many, are merely picturesque. Less than a hundred years ago they were essential. In the living memory of an ever-decreasing few the streets of the world's towns and villages were filled not with cars and trucks, but with horses, oxen, carts, and wagons. The horses and oxen needed the fountains to quench their thirst. With few people having indoor plumbing, families needed fountains for their drinking and cleaning water, which women carried by bucketfuls home. Women washed their clothes in the fountains, and sometimes their kids. Indirectly, fountains were very useful socially as a place to meet friends, and exchange news and gossip.
The importance of water fountains in Switzerland and in Europe was often celebrated in their design. Care was given not only to their construction, but also to their aesthetics. Even simple fountains had a pleasing look, and on many were carved the date. You don't carve in stone the date of things that are not important to you or your community. A date on a fountain provided witness as to when an important event had taken place in the community, a place and time when locals and visitors could find water for their use near at hand.
The importance of a fountain was sometimes emphasized by decorative elements just as Europe's cathedrals were not merely places of worship. Many fountains became works of art or places of commemoration or the communication of social values. One fountain in Neuchâtel for instance shows blind justice, holding her scales as she judges the people.
Another with a knight in armour, sword at his side, carrying a banner honors an elite fighting class of medieval society.
Europe's water fountains are an important part of its architectural history, and they are important not only for their design, but also to their importance in the life of the community.