The history of Vienna’s sewer system goes back to about 100 AD when the Romans built a highly sophisticated sewer system in their military camp Vindobona. In the Middle Ages, Vienna was no different from any other European city as far as hygienic conditions were concerned: garbage landed in the streets and sewage was simply allowed to flow into the many free-flowing tributaries of the Danube, causing repeated outbreaks of epidemics.
It was not until the middle of the 18th century that Vienna, at that time covering the area corresponding approximately to the present first district, had a well-functioning sewer system well before other European cities. Conditions in the suburbs, however, were still far from ideal. In 1830 exceptionally high waters and ice on the Danube dammed up the tributaries, which caused wide-spread flooding and the contamination of ground water. The ensuing cholera epidemic killed over 2,000. It was only then that the city started tunnelling and integrating the water courses in the western districts of the city into a combined storm and sanitary sewer system and building sanitary sewers on either side of the Wien River. Until then the Wien River alone had taken the raw sewage from countless industries as well as almost 4,000 tenement blocks along its banks. A first step had been taken and the city could pride itself on having one the most advanced systems of sewers in Europe, years if not decades before other major cities.
As Vienna’s population grew exponentially until World war I, to cope with the burgeoning waste waters, further improvements were necessary, namely the construction of sanitary sewers on either side of the Danube Canal, the partial construction of vaults over the Wien River and the extension of the sewer system into the outer districts. The precarious economic situation in Vienna during the twenties and thirties, however, slowed down further improvements and during World War II Vienna’s sewer system suffered badly from bombing. 1,800 hits were counted and it was not until 1950 that the last of the war damage was repaired. Today, Vienna continues to have one of the most modern sewer systems and treatment works worldwide.