Ancient Water Fountains, Valangin, Canton Neuchatel, Switzerland

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Water Fountain at the Chateau
Water Fountain Decorated with Geraniums.

Water fountains were very important in the life of a town. With few people having indoor plumbing, fountains provided drinking water for people and animals, and water with which to clean oneself or one's grubby little children. Valangin has at least four fountains of which I am aware though there are probably more I haven't discovered. I would guess the town had many more fountains, but they have been done away with over the years.

Today fountains in Switzerland, and in much of Europe, are primarily decorative though on hot days one can sometimes see a passerby stopping to take a swig from a fountain spigot and very occasionally one can see children cooling off from the summer's heat. On a hot day I often stop at a fountain, cup water in my hands and splash the water into my face, the top of my head and the back of my neck. I've never seen a Swiss adult do this. Perhaps, this is unseemly for an adult to do, and the Swiss graciously forgive this foreigner's idiosyncrasies and lack of decorum.

Valangin's main fountain, dating to 1771, is just outside the castle walls. This fountain is a splendid example of a town fountain with two basins and a slanted washing stone. The housewife would lean against the curved indentation at the top of the stone, and give the clothes a scrub and a good beating. The water, fed from a local river, is constantly running. Its water spews out of the two bronze spigots into the first basin. A channel at the end of that basin allows the water to flow into the second basin. A channel in that basin allows the water to flow out and back down into the river.

Same Water Fountain Showing Washing Stone. Enlarge
Basin in Forefront Used for Washing. Enlarge

The second basin is obviously for washing clothes because the slanted washing stone, which reminds us of wood and metal washing boards from the old days, stands just off to the side. I imagine the first basin was used as drinking water for humans - a housewife would sink her bucket into the water and pull it out. But that leaves some questions. From which basin do animals drink? And, where do you wash the kids and the family dog? I imagine they were all dumped in the second basin along with the clothes. I wouldn't be surprised if the horse and ox drank from either basin.

Surprisingly, it seems most of Switzerland's water fountains still work even though many date back hundreds of years. In fact, a non-working fountain in Switzerland is a thing to note.

"Hey, look over there! A dry Swiss water fountain!'

'Wow! Hard to believe.'

'Local water commissioner must have died recently.'

'No, doubt.'

Fountain Built in 1771. Enlarge