Access to water in the Lisbon region in 1900


Access to water has always been of strategic importance for urban areas, agricultural purposes and other economic activities. Rapid population growth and urbanization and the subsequent increase in the demand for water have made access to water an important environmental and social issue. This paper examines how water was accessed in the Lisbon region in the nineteen hundreds, a period of time when a specific technological model, commonly referred to as traditional, was in force. Currently, when water management is mostly dependent on technological models based on energy consumption, financial resources, and competition for private management, it would seem that the analysis of how former water systems were organized is a central issue. Through historical evidence from cartographic sources and surveys on water quality and water availability, this article demonstrates: (1) the complexity of the identified traditional water system; (2) the diversity of the water elements that contributed to the functioning of the identified water system; (3) the reliability of such water system; and (4) the value of integrating historical and scientific data to enhance our understanding of the nexus between the human and physical world, within specific temporal and spatial settings. A number of traditional water elements, which existed in the Lisbon region in 1900, are identified and geo-referenced for the first time. These offer important details which will enrich our knowledge of the history of water and possibly allow us to tackle future sustainability issues.

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Fig. 1

Source: Images extracted from the CEM (1896–1905)

Fig. 2

Source: All images are from the Arquivo Fotográfico da Câmara Municipal de Lisboa. The definitions were obtained from Figueiredo (1911), Lemos (1900–1909) and Silva (1889–1891)

Fig. 3

Source: Database for municipalities, settlements and royal estates from the MEMO Project (PTDC/EMS-ENE/2197/2012)

Fig. 4

Source: Authors. Elaborated from CEM (1896–1905)

Fig. 5

Source: Authors. Elaborated from CEM (1896–1905)

Fig. 6

Source: Database of water elements, MEMO Project (PTDC/EMS-ENE/2197/2012)

Fig. 7

Source: Top—authors. Elaborated from the CEM (1896–1905); Bottom—CFR (1904)

Fig. 8

Source: Authors

Fig. 9

Source: Authors

Fig. 10

Source: Authors

Fig. 11

Source: Authors

Fig. 12

Source: Database of water elements, MEMO Project (PTDC/EMS-ENE/2197/2012)


  1. 1.

    For European cities see the cases for Paris (Gandy 1999; Barles 2002). For non-European cities see the cases for Mexico City (Banister and Widdifield 2014), Tianjin (Haiyan 2011) and New York (Swaney et al. 2011).

  2. 2.

    Charts 1–34; 36–38; 44; 59–74; 79–82 and; 84–85.

  3. 3.

    The selection of the two cartographic sources was sustained on the results obtained by Marat-Mendes and Cuchí (2007, 2008) and Marat-Mendes (2011) which confirmed the opportunity that these historical sources provide for the identification of existing water elements in the territory under analysis for this same period of time.

  4. 4.

    These ten plans included (1) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água de Almoxarifado da Ajuda; (2) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água das Reais Propriedades do Alfeite; (3) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água da Real Quinta de Belém; (4) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água Real da Quinta de Caxias; (5) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água da Real Tapada de Mafra; (6) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água da Real Quinta e Palácio das Necessidades; (7) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água Almoxarifado da Pena; (8) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água do Almoxarifado de Queluz; (9) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água do Almoxarifado de Cintra; and (10) Planta das Minas e Encanamentos d’água da Real Tapada da Ajuda.

  5. 5.

    See Fig. 2 for the distinction between these two types. In Portuguese language there are two different designations for fountain (chafarizes and fontes).

  6. 6.

    For information on how to access to the Project MEMO GIS Database of water elements please visit the website!base-de-dados/c117u.

  7. 7.

    Number obtained from database of farms/estates from the MEMO Project (PTDC/EMS-ENE/2197/2012).

  8. 8.

    According to Montenegro (1895) scarcity of water in Lisbon was a reality at the end of the 19th century.

  9. 9.

    One penna measured approximately 3390 litres/24 h.


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Authors acknowledge the Fundação para a Ciencia e a Tecnologia—FCT, the Portuguese national funding agency for science, research and technology, for its financial support in the aim of project MEMO—Evolution of the Lisbon metropolitan area metabolism. Lessons towards a Sustainable Urban Future’, with grant PTDC/EMS-ENE/2197/2012. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 21st International Seminar on Urban Form. Many thanks to Kine Halvorsen Thorén for providing insightful suggestions at that presentation. Finally, the authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions, which contributed to improve the paper.


This study was funded by grant PTDC/EMS-ENE/2197/2012, for the research project MEMO—Evolution of the Lisbon metropolitan area metabolism. Lessons towards a Sustainable Urban Future, financed by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, the Portuguese national funding agency for science, research and technology.

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Correspondence to Teresa Marat-Mendes.

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Marat-Mendes, T., Mourão, J. & d’Almeida, P.B. Access to water in the Lisbon region in 1900. Water Hist 8, 159–189 (2016).

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  • Water history
  • Water infrastructures
  • Access to water
  • Environmental history
  • Early 20th Century
  • Lisbon region