If you find yourself furnishing or refurbishing the house in Italy, you will have been met with an array of names for a feature, which from the 3rd century BC has been equally fundamental for the bathroom as well as the kitchen: the sink.
Originally it was a simple fixed bowl without a drainage hole or a tap. It was equally used both for washing people as well as religious rites and rituals. It is these purification rituals, which give rise to one of the first definitions: lavabo.
Where does the lavabo come from?
The word lavabo is Latin and more specifically derives from a phrase recited during mass in the moment of actually washing the hands. Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas et circumdabo altare tuum, Domine (“I shall wash my hands in innocence, And I will go about your altar, O Lord”, this quotation can be found in Psalm 26:6). When this phrase was spoken during the ceremony, a sink would emerge for the priest to wash his hands.
In the Middle Ages sinks were called hand-washers or washstands. In that time, they were portable and made in copper, and bronze. For wealthier clients they could be made of gold and with gemstones.
However, it wasn’t until the 1900’s that the sink we are familiar with took hold in houses, and not only for the nobility but the new bourgeoisie too. Until that point, the concept of hygiene was still far from being part of everyday life. Actual awareness campaigns were thus carried out in schools and hospitals. Today, we could term them as public service announcements.
The aim was to convince even the most reticent of the importance of washing, especially to prevent the spread of diseases and viruses, not as purely a social or aesthetic matter.
Who can forget the word acquaio?
Knowing that Italian is rich in modulations, we certainly couldn’t use just one definition for an object that can be found in the bathroom or the kitchen.
The ceramic washbasin was normally called acquaio. It was placed in the bathroom and used for personal hygiene.
Lavello (kitchen sink) and acquaio (the word is now in disuse yet we all remember it from our schooldays when it was used to teach the correct use of “cq”) are found in the kitchen and used to clean fruit and vegetables, foods and dishes.
The Anglo-Saxons are much more practical than us and to avoid confusion they distinguish sink from washbasin. Sink is the kitchen sink, what we call lavello, while washbasin is our bathroom sink. From the Anglo-Saxon world also comes the definition of tap in English, which are now increasingly rare due to mixer taps. English taps are those where hot and cold water are kept separate like our beautiful Porter