Filthy Cities
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Filthy Cities

2011, History  -   68 Comments
Ratings: 8.20/10 from 97 users.

Filthy CitiesDan Snow gets down and dirty in the murky histories of London, Paris and New York, exploring their filthy histories from the bottom up.

Medieval London. State of the art CGI reveals London's streets as they were 700 years ago and Dan steps into the shoes of a medieval Londoner - wooden platforms designed to help him rise above the disgusting mess underfoot.

He spends the night as a medieval muck-raker shifting a staggering six tonnes of excrement, and has a go at medieval butchery to find out what the authorities were up against.

Revolutionary Paris. Stinking streets where ordinary people slaved in toxic industries and suffered grotesque poverty and disease. Dan immerses himself in their world, visiting a perfumer to recreate the stench of the 18th century city - Pong de Paris.

He has a go at one of the worst jobs in history - tanning leather by 18th century methods using dog excrement and urine - to make exquisite luxury goods that only the filthy rich could afford.

Industrial New York. Dan Snow travels back to a seething Manhattan in the throes of the industrial revolution. Millions fled persecution, poverty and famine in Europe in the 19th century in search of the Promised Land. When they arrived what they found was even worse than what they'd left behind.

New York was a city consumed by filth and corruption, its massive immigrant population crammed together in the slums of Lower Manhattan.

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68 Comments / User Reviews

  1. John Krystemskwicz

    i've never seen the third (New York) installment of this series, but the first two were compelling. I think the Revolutionary Paris episode in particular was something of a masterpiece; the research and writing so very good. This show is informative, nauseating, well produced and very well presented.

  2. Devon H

    I was trying to enjoy this doc, but was getting sick of the loose social commentary interjected at EVERY corner. We already get it that there was and is inequality, but the use of words like filthy and selfish before every possible instance of talking about people with more money than others is just tiresome.

  3. Gruntfuttock

    I can find New York but where are the other cities. ? Surely this site is not so insular as to ignore them. Medieval London was much more fun, they poured 'night soil' out the windows. That and a nice dose of the plague - ah the good old days.

  4. Harry-david Sayers

    Dan Snow.. well done mate.. great work.. .. i've never been so grossed out in my life .. please dont let our cities get like that again.. austerity begets filth .. I dont want london to become a filthy place ever....

    1. grool

      Austerity begets filth? San Francisco is not austere and can't cope with vagrant fences and hypodermics on the sidewalks.

  5. amelia9999999

    this is reallY good

  6. Jacek Walker

    New York was corrupted? Was? Ok. So now it is surely a shining example of a decent harmonious society...
    Disgusting picture of filth combined with greed. I can't find any other explanation than greed and indifference as to why people could stay in such a squalor for lives. Ready to bear any inhuman conditions only to make their suspicious profits usually from cheating, conning, lying...
    Looks like all that dirt outside refects exactly the inner of the soul.
    Most of them simply didn't mind living like pigs as long as there were some money to be made around. Or were they so busy that they coudn't find time to bring down a bucket of crap downstairs instead of pouring it down out of a window onto someone else's head?

  7. gaboora

    The influence of filth is exaggerated a little. But this series taught me a lot. I had no idea that cities used to be that filthy. This doc is educational, grisly, and sometimes funny. I would watch it again.

  8. roxanne

    i was shocked to see this guy handling the ancient documents w/o gloves on...

  9. fixintheworld

    nyc streets are extreme filthy too numerous to name streets it is demand her majesty block these streets of nyc from humans walking down the inhabitable filth even if for 14 secs,intolerable 2013. Massive filthy garbage trucks run around day and nite all parts of city refuse to clean their trucks. There is no excuse for this vile,some report extreme tenant buildings cause, yes i am sure send fetid air into streets too. Yet if rents are on average 3,000 usd then % of those rents should be spent on common sense water soap detergent,pinesol pour to streets. It is most fault owners who insist poor leave,got what they want now,said want this place only for themselvea cause millionaires,zillionaires,billionaires- it is their own backyard they keep filthy then the result. If insist they should reward every one make under 13,000 an additional 7,000 for moving into cleaner state which should have right,not wanted there in first place. Those who make efforts stay clean,showers are betrayed by the filthy trash collection vehicles. Why should one be doled out senseless possible death for few secs drive pass by humans. Its ironic the way they clean is the killer filth contaminating with more germs. If you run away it is impossible to know which direction street. as it may be even more fetid worse fleeing point. Mott street is so filthy it should be banned from the song about nyc. Perhaps the millionaires mostly jewish should go home to israel the land god promised them because they refuse to clean their own backyards. Its not just occupy it is whole neighborhoods. You have to cross out the streets on your google maps and it is endless even though 11 miles long. It is offensive to any johnny appleseed which i am and a grievous wrong of tenants (if they tried to solve problem nothing should go against it)landlords because they put profit first when it should be about decent housing for everybody. When rents were 40 usd tenants led stuctured lives and did disciplined arts which could afford because rents were minimal. If zillionaires have even one revolting impossible street then maybe should give back to indians. Who say they respect mother earth. Maybe rent will be even lower than $40 or just an old subway token. If they have to zillionaires should devote 25% of their income to task clean. Cleaning workers are stupid not cleaning sinks source of water. And angry young immigrants spit on the floor. The city next to Trump hotel closed down car wash which is few blocks from trash collection vehicles parkspace. i gave them warning years before shutdown carwash. That celebrity Jennifer Connely protest6ed and it is many celebrites nearby the trash colection lots Trump hotel. That is street trash collection vehicles embark rest of city. What excuse they had not to drive through very near car wash first or use bleach on their trucks. Sometimes more lethal than the abhorrent revolting filth. Millionaries have caused high rents and caused homelessness. Should be punished and homes given back. Homeless should be a banned word cause it was created by others who made them homelesss. To file a clean idea it cost $300 and too needy necessities which everyone should have.

    Maybe trump hotel enough power even win presidency while at it if cleaned up city. They could have barricaded the way starting point of trash vehicles begin demand not pass til went through car wash,yet heedless paid no attention even laughed while car wash opportunity was there even when told,it was there since 80 maybe even earlier a key role to send trash vehicles through car wash never did now closed as said. Isn't trump rich enough to make a barricade no unclean vehicle to go into beyond neighborhoods to choke the streets from west to east. That would have proved vital solution human.

    God has promised the jewish persons they could go home to promised land is already returned fullfilled prophesy so have no reason even to be here like in Lord of the Rings it is greed that caused those mostrous monsters i am sure they were smelly. Greed the cause to stay when pre ordained prayers answered and could go home is a heinous crime deed unspeakable to create this squalor that is foul smells not just the tolerant sut and grit of yore,i read recent ad charging $6,000 a nite for tenement walk up,in a highly polluted neighborhood, Native indians said they charged no rent or wanted rent it was a basic human right to share land,clean air and water at no price. That the earth was a supporting great spirit. Home is not a product and it is illegitimate to take away.
    Maybe they could do better the chosen native americans to adhere this value say not ever given up. To be fair though reality is i met one indian atrocious take no baths.. Not trust any smelly person who made the postal office stench unsanctified may be more syrian than native,only native i met so fierce of bad smells, making bad smells. A womanl said even in yoga classes it smells disgusting.

  10. Elissa Sangi

    ya and this same filth, the monarchy remains born and bred.

  11. Sam Ferrara

    Oh my god!! I was there! I went to the Tenement Museum in New York and he's in the same tenement we visited! Now THAT'S cool!
    This series is fantastic. I've loved every one of them.

  12. Sam Ferrara

    How do you get all three to play? I can only get the first one.

    1. Sam Ferrara

      Don't worry!.... I got it!

  13. Carl Franklin Hendershot

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Carl Franklin Hendershot

    The river looks like hell.

  15. Jack Dempsey

    My wife and I stayed at a B&B in Brooklyn NY one weekend. At night, we were appalled to see hordes---I mean, hordes---of fat RATS running the streets at will, 40 and 50 in a pack swarming down the sidewalks amid huge piles of uncollected trash and fetid garbage. People just ignored them, but it seemed clear that bubonic plague is going to find a nice new place to breed.

    1. fixintheworld

      Unfortunantely smallpox hospital is abandoned long ago in ruins sitting middle of e. river by FDR drive 23rd st. Apparrently smallpox was cured is why hospital been forsaken. What is cause of smallbox dirty polluted living conditions so if you don't remove real cause once forever then the disease may come back and is not cured.

  16. Rob Riddell

    sure it was filthy but at least there was less toxic chenicals that never existed before humans f--ked with nature

  17. Ought Thoughts

    Remember, after it rained, that wormy smell in the air? We have five senses, and often miss a fuller appreciation for life in the past because we tend to experience our walk into history through the sense of our eyes (reading, looking at pictures); we can even recreate the sights and sounds in movies...but we haven't been able to really experience the feel, the touch of rough materials, the rhythmic bump of riding horseback, or of a wagon on wooden wheels over rough ground; of beds made of straw covered in burlap...and we haven't begun to experience the smells - dewy meadows, horses, animals, no mouthwash, toothpaste, antiperspirant, cologne, after-shave, shampoo...

    This series really reinforces that smell was a major part of the experience of living in these times.

  18. Tanzanos Eleytheros

    Thanks for the doc! :)

  19. Harriet Leeck

    Very informative, I thought, and thoufght without reservation ....:)

    1. fixintheworld

      believe it ot not travesty continued by lost literature rights. Charles Dickens lost his writings in nyc caused so much grievous outcome.
      i get title in a minute.

  20. Monique Pigeon

    Wow, couldn't make it through London. I gaged at least 3 times and was starting to get phantom smells.

  21. Sam

    awesome docs! I really like the host and it was interesting to hear where so many names we are so familiar with came from.

  22. Hamza Ibrahim

    that just put me of my lunch

  23. Rich Mc

    Very interesting to see what can develop from dirt!

  24. Godsclaws

    great docos! Well made, interesting and informative, and I liked the narrator/host

  25. jameshand

    pooooo what a ponyg stink that must have

  26. L0LAW0NKA

    Dirty. Everything is dirty. But they should really focus on those cities who don't care about public health regulations. Go to a third world country and then complain about New York. Trust me, NY is not that bad in comparison to South America.

    1. Vlatko


      Why I think you didn't watch the documentary. It's about how those cities looked like in the past.

    2. fixintheworld

      maybe yet forced take Mott S total catastrophe due did not want walk by filth in air spread by trash collection vehicles' direction, A family cry out almost home home so be very careful. You are only to go 1 block even cab can't help. If only 1 block stretch even more revolting. Raining hard thunder lightning not enough to help make a dent. Need least 40 days of flooding hard rain,open up fire hydrants also while at it. You have to wash hair within 1 minute flat afterwards,arms change clothing,use eyewash,listerine etc dread emergency immediately open 31 vents 3 fans to help. Yet this city is so stupid condem a garden of beautful flowers say and do nothing abou trash collection vehicles effective to destroy air every direction.

      Why can't afford soap first defence richest city in world?
      Some say unique fault of tenant buildings yet if every tenant live here would not put up with conditions,no way could happen. Could even insist vehicles power wash.

      yes, history says nyc would do nothing about having filthy water in 1800's. United states found it revolting changed it
      successfully has good water,resevoir. Water is ok,air is now the unspeakable damage.

  27. Jeremy Boulat

    man... japan is so much cleaner than this... today and yesterday... i mean come on! europeans really had dirty habbits... you do realize that the aztecs had running water? That Filipinos bathed weekly in the 15th century? That Egyptians had outdoor latrines?


    i enjoyed watchin these ones!

  29. Jacob On Tour

    This is truly disgusting! In my hometown, a street now named after a flower, had up until a century ago, kept its medieval name, which literaly was "Shitstreet".

    1. Sam

      hehe! That was hilarious to find out!

  30. John Christopher McDonald

    Fantastic dinner conversation, as I also ate whilst watching this.

  31. ThePhilhw

    Why is he being punished like this ???
    He must have really pissed off the senior echelons of the beeb.........
    Shagged the DG's wife ???

    Great documentary...........

  32. Achems_Razor


    Right, these are good docs to eat by, I was having spaghetti and meatballs. lol

    1. Roberts Cerbulis

      I was having spaghetti also. I wanted to find some nice doc to eat by :)

    2. vvindred

      damn :)))) i was also eating :)))))

  33. Charlotte86

    Mmmm about to cook dinner. Let's watch!

  34. KsDevil

    One bit of advice. Do not watch while having a nice meal and a weak stomach. We humans can be quite disgusting and the BBC doesn't hold back.

    1. fixintheworld

      thanks i have not watched it period. hear it while typing. If queen england can help?

  35. Ali

    fantastastic vedeos

  36. kchapmans

    Excellent videos!

  37. David Foster

    This one should get a high spot on the must see list.

  38. adilrye

    I love this series! Please make more!! There are so many cities and time periods he could do...

  39. Fecioru Florin

    This documentary is full of cr*p.

  40. wheelnut53

    another one of my questions were answered

  41. Xercès Des Stèles

    very interesting how napoleon came to the rescue of the poor people by redesigning a less filthy city, only to be better at stopping possible future revolutions.

  42. drinker69

    I love filth. I love squalor. I love dirt. I love the non-biodegradeable despair of human slime that we all have become. Someone flush my soul so I may bathe in eternal excreta.

    1. adilrye


  43. adilrye

    Wow, a 2,000 year old city. That's just so cool to me. The same streets the Romans built are being walked on today by contemporary Brits. Of course, the city I call home is like 219 years old or something. I just find it amazing how much history there is, even if it's quite dirty.

    This reminds me of Toronto when the street cleaners went on strike. A hot, smelly and dirty summer that was, I remember. Not exactly walking in animal entrails and sh*t, but I guess we got a little sense of it :P

  44. Dancing Horses

    Paris is still disgusting. Dog sh*t in the streets, everywhere.

    1. Guest

      Happily not every body has an English Mastiff.

  45. greyspoppa

    Visited New Orleans bout 96'-97'ish, the French Quarter was as nasty of a place as I've encountered anywhere.

  46. smithie

    I guess you'd be amazed at what a big percent of folks live, in the nicest of houses, in filth. My job includes fixing peoples homes so they are liveable again- I've seen and smelled places that are on par with pig stys and these are nurses, medical students and teachers, etc. Dirty, dirty, dirty.

    1. monkeyseatpoo

      It's so true, I've help my aunty to do up a flat from a young nurse and there was sh*t all over the walls and sick in all the carpet, it stunk so bad and just thought u wouldn't want her touching u if u had seen this :)

  47. PavolvsBitch

    ah yes, let's hail more research into a vaccine to immunise against the black death. utter tosh, it's down to hygiene.

    1. response 88888

      Yeah, I noticed that as well. This documentary came on Netflix. The show was real interesting and enjoyable until that vaccine propaganda bit was thrown in. They just couldn't give improved living conditions and better hygiene the credit for reduction in disease. Nope. The industries funding these films just won't hear of it.
      It's really too bad so much entertainment today is corporate propaganda in disguise. You really have to pay close attention to catch it sometimes, because they're getting more clever each time.

  48. PavolvsBitch

    There is no way people would choose to 'live' in such squalor and I take issue with the the sloppy vagaraies such as 'opportunity, money, fame' as to why such a small area became so choked in effluence to fuel the affluent. Could it not be that a fair proportion were driven off their lands into the arena, were released prisoners with no option other than to settle or were indeed in the main, slaves or 'indentured servants' within the labyrinth of wealthy City of London Freemasons? But let's focus on the revolting realities of naked greed and social experimentation in the form of the citysewage; all cities are sewers. Chronic overcrowding and filth are effective measures of behavioural and population control.

  49. Guest

    Yuk, somebody turn it off...... when its over :)

  50. PaulGloor

    A minute and a half in and I can already tell I probably shouldn't be eating while watching this :P

  51. bcbingram


  52. His Forever

    Add Manila to your list, please! One of the worst I've ever personally seen. Sad but true.

    P.S. No time to stay and read--busy days for the whole month!

    1. Sudsy Susie Brownn

      my god i am so grateful i wasn't alive gross and disgusting it was to be a human in that era! no bathing constant filth putrid odors! every aspect of life was nasty. And to think i was upset over my toilet backing up last week i was so disgusted by it i wanted to cry...jeez! this is an interesting documentary but so so gross

    2. Sudsy Susie Brownn

      omg! watched all three of these i feel an extreme need to take a long hot bath!