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16. Water as an Economic Resource and as an Environmental Challenge Within the Urbanisation Process of the Rhine Valley in the 13th Century [chapter]

2020 The Power of Urban Water  
The medieval urbanisation of Europe, not least in its manifestation in the region presented here, embraced the whole natural landscape as well as the social landscape. Water -as an indispensable prerequisite for human settlement -was a recurring topic for urban magistrates -even in the relatively humid regions north of the Alps. In this contribution, exemplary aquatic aspects of the urbanisation of the Upper and Middle Rhine Valley in the 13 th century will be examined. The analysis shows once
more » ... nalysis shows once more how many facets and forms of water had to be made use of, regulated and negotiated in political conflicts -between town lords and townspeople and within the communes. But also the environmental challenges which particularly floods (in themselves often a fallout of deforestation for urbanisation) posed for towns are taken into account. In doing so, the methodological problems with the scarcity of given sources in this relatively early urban era of the Middle Ages (in this region) are weighed throughout. Water was -and still is -an indispensable prerequisite for human culture and settlement, 1 even more so of denser settlement in towns. To provide for the dietary, commercial, and the transport-related demand for access to water was a major task for medieval urban magistrateseven in the relatively humid regions north of the Alps. But water was not only a source of energy of different kinds to be used, it was also a natural force to be reckoned with and to be confined. And, thirdly but not least, water, or rather the rights to make use of it, was also a battlefield for powers on different levels of society. 2 Thus, water is -or rather should be more of -a core aspect of pre-modern urban history. 3 The medieval urbanisation of Europe, not least its manifestation in the region presented here, which is -more concisely -the Upper and the Middle Rhine Valley (i. e. between Basel and Bonn), included in many ways the whole natural landscape as well as the social landscape. 4 This is not only a postulation by modern research; even the medieval contemporaries could see that connection: around 1300, an anonymous chronicler within the ranks of the then still relatively young Dominican convent in Colmar wrote a fascinating report in Latin on the 'conditions in Alsace at the beginning of the 13 th century'. 5 In this quite remarkable description, which intends, not least, to point out the positive effects of the Dominicans' arrival in that historic landscape on the left bank of the Upper Rhine, the Anonymous covers a whole range of topics from Intellectual and Ecclesiastical to Cultural and even Environmental History. Among many other things, he points out that Strasbourg and Basel -the old Roman and Episcopal cities, respectively, on the River Rhine -were still 'poor in their walls and buildings' around 100 years previously, 'still poorer in terms of private homes'. There were few fortified houses and hardly any windows there which would carry the light into them. He goes on to state that Colmar, Schlettstadt (Séléstat), Rufach (Rouffach), Mülhausen (Mulhouse) and other smaller settlements 'were not even cities then' -around 1200 -implying (and for everyone to be seen) that they were now, around 1300. This passage captures in a nutshell the rapid and relatively dense urbanisation of his region, Alsace, where, in the course of the 1 Huber-Rebenich et al. 2017. 2 Schubert 2002, 65-107. 3 Cf. e. g. the older publication Maschke -Sydow 1978. 4 Cf. e. g. Schreg 2013 for the supra-local, even rural consequences of urbanisation. 5 'De rebus Alsaticis ineuntis saeculi XIII', in: Pertz 1861, 232-237. The following quotes in English are the author's translation of the Latin edition.
doi:10.1515/9783110677065-016 fatcat:hudy45zimnfj5myokcwsatgu3m