Vespasiennes: The Ancient Street Urinals of Paris

In the streets of Paris, public toilets called sanisettes have replaced the old, smelly vespasiennes. The modern public urinals were first installed in 1980; since 2006, a couple hundred are found throughout the city, and their use is now free.

But among some, there is a lingering nostalgia for the vespasiennes, imbued with a quaint character, and an image associated with the mores of certain parts of French society.

The first vespasiennes appeared in Paris in 1834. The term comes from the Roman emperor Vespasien who, according to legend, imposed a tax on the distribution of urine into public urinals in Rome.

Colonne Moris (1910)

Those public urinals also served the function of street advertising; but since 1860, the Moris columns perform this role and are now a famous part of the Parisian landscape.

The last vespasienne of Paris can be seen in front of the wall of the prison de la Santé on the sidewalk of the boulevard Arago in the XIV arrondissement.

Last Vespasienne of Paris