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The Public Laundry (lavatoio pubblico)

October 21, 2016

Built during the 16th and 17th centuries, the antico lavatoio pubblico (the ancient public washing basin) is still located along the street behind the large circular stone tower of the Castle of the Caldoro. Fed by water flowing from mountain streams, the gray stone masonry walls form a boat-shaped basin along which the village women congregated to wash their clothes. For centuries, women carried family laundry within copper basins (uaccile) perched atop their heads and walked from all areas of the village up the steep and windy streets to the lavatoio. Then, in the 20th century, the reduced flow from the mountain stream to the basin resulted in the abandonment of the lavataio. While the basin is now overgrown with weeds, the historic structure is still intact. Visitors can close their eyes and picture the Pacentrani women congregating around the basin, beating their clothes on the stones and sharing gossip. Wash day involved hard work, but it was also a time for camaraderie among the women.

 

 

Interestingly, this rather unobtrusive structure was once the epicenter for the spread of diseases, such as cholera. Women caretakers would take the fecal-stained clothes of family members and co-mingle them with the clothes of fellow villagers in the free flowing waters of the lavatoio; thus creating a ‘host’ for the cholera bacterium to be spread to healthy villagers. In 1837, 189 deaths were attributed to the cholera epidemic in the village of Pacentro, with the highest concentration (N = 92) occurring between July and September. Even the village priest, Don Giuseppe Galterio, succumbed to the effects of cholera in 1837.

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