A lavoir (wash-house) is a public place set aside for the washing of clothes. Communal washing places were common in Europe until industrial washing was introduced, and they in turn were replaced by launderettes. The English word is borrowed from the French language, which also uses the expression bassin publique, "public basin".

Lavoirs were built from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. With Haussman's redesign of Paris in the 1850s, a free lavoir was established in every neighbourhood, and government grants encouraged municipalities across France to construct their own. [1] Lavoirs are more common in certain areas, such as around the Canal du Midi.[2]

Lavoirs are commonly sited on a spring or beside or set over a river. Many lavoirs are provided with roofs for shelter. With the coming of piped water supplies and modern drainage, lavoirs have been steadily falling into disuse although a number of communities have restored ancient lavoirs, some of which date back to the 10th century.

There are also bateaux-lavoirs (laundry boats) in some towns on the banks of large rivers such as Paris and Lyon.

The lavoir in Rives (74 200 Thonon, Haute-Savoie, France) is lit in by the March afternoon slanting sun. Polished stone slabs line around the central pool, which reflects its light against the wall (note the date 1887 on a plaque), and the hall is cool and quiet, while it was a century ago ringing with bat thuds, washing songs and the loud chatter of gossips.



  1. ^ Roddier, Mireille (2003). Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 9781568983929. 
  2. ^ Visentin, Francesco; Vallerani, Francesco. Waterways and the Cultural Landscape book cover Waterways and the Cultural Landscape. 

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