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ARCH 354 CULTURE OF CITIES. LECTURE 5 Medieval Cities 900 to 1500 Prof. Dr. Naciye Doratl I. TO REMEMBER. The Medieval period or Middle ages is a period of European history from the 5 th century to 15 th century.

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arch 354 culture of cities



Medieval Cities

900 to 1500

Prof. Dr. NaciyeDoratlI

to remember

The Medieval period or Middle ages is a period of European history from the 5th century to 15th century.

The Medieval ages is the middle period of western history, Classical , Medieval and Modern.

The Medieval period following the collapse of the Roman Empire and cities in the west declined in population and influence.

to remember1

In the Early Middle Ages the trends of the Late Antiquity (depopulation, deurbanization, and increased barbarian invasion) continued.

North Africa and the Middle East, once part of the Eastern Roman Empire, became Islamic.

Later in the period, the establishment of the feudal system.

to remember2

During the High Middle Ages (c. 1000–1300), Christian-oriented art and architecture flourished and Crusades were mounted to recapture the Holy Land from Muslim control.

The influence of the emerging nation-state was tempered by the ideal of an international Christendom.

to remember medieval planning

Medieval planning can be studied in three different phases:

The Dark Ages and under the Arab influence when Islamic effects on the design of European cities as well as individual buildings can be found in some places in Europe;

A European recovery period when some new urban forms were created by the invaders themselves. As trade routes between northern Europe and the Mediterranean were cut by the invasions so many cities were deserted or at least fell into decline then. Some of the walled Roman cities survived only.

As the third phase irregular urban form was determining.

emergence of medieval cities

Towards the end of the Roman Empire:

As a result of the barbarian invasion, there was a disintegration of the old way of life.

The life throughout Europe became crude and chaotic.

A new way of life started to be shaped.

Thus, when the Roman Empire collapsed, a new religious vision emerged.

emergence of medieval cities1

The Christian took the first step towards building up a new fabric out of the ruin.

Many of the old Roman buildings became obsolete not only because they had pagan images and symbols, but also functionally worthless, like the theater, the arena, and the bath, because they were incompatible (even against) the Christian way of life.

Only the old basilicas and temples have been transformed into Christian churches.

emergence of medieval cities2

Since protection against the barbarian became necessary and inevitable, fortification of the cities became extremely important.

The cities had been reduced to a third of their previous sizes. The new Christian culture that arose under these circumstances did not assume an urban form until the 11th century.

But the seeds of it were already planted in the church and the monastery; for the surviving architecture expresses the needs of this trouble age, with its emphasis upon enclosure, protection, security, durability, and continuity.


According to Prienne (1925), by the 9th century, even with the cathedral cities and the monasteries, were not enough to resist invaders.

“The walls of the existing cities had to be strengthened, rebuilt and properly fortified.”

And after attacks became more sophisticated, the castle started to be formed.(1066)

emergence of medieval cities3

Uniform imperial organization of Roman Empire has shifted to an economy of local production and barter.

The Walled enclosure not only gave protection from outside invasion, it had also a political function.

At the beginning the castle or the monastery was the town center.

After the 11th century the fresh activities of the community began to shift towards the market place.

There was a balance between the warriors, the merchants, the priest, the monk, the craftsman, the tradesman.

medieval cities
  • As a result, both physically and politically, the medieval city (although having some traces of the earliest urban order) was unique.
  • Freedom
  • Corporate order
  • Democratic participation
  • Autonomy

were never fully achieved in a medieval city.

medieval cities1
  • Much of western Europe by the late 9th and 10th centuries had been politically fragmented into feudal estates.
  • By 11th century there has been a revival of trade activities. This has been responsible for city building and civilizing activities that took place in the 11th century.
  • But before this could happen:
    • Surplus of rural products
    • Surplus of population

(for good to trade, customers to buy them)

medieval cities2
  • The regular market, held once or twice a week, under the protection of Bishop or Abbot, was an instrument of LOCAL LIFE.
  • In addition to trade:
    • political unification (Normandy, Flanders etc)
    • land reclamation (ISLAH) and forest clearance
    • immense building program
  • The town was a place of exchange of local agricultural and handicraft production.
medieval cities3

When we evaluate the medieval town from an economic history point of view:


From: A group of protected producers (earning a modest living, achieving a state of relative equality;

To: A small group of privileged wholesale merchants (the friends and rivals of princes)


A new hierarchy (with rank and station based mainly on money)


Characterized SUPERIOR AND INFERIOR under the feudal regime.

The most powerful monarchs were somehow controlled (influenced) by those who held finance in their hands.

medieval cities4

The cities movement, from the 10th century on, is a tale of old urban settlements becoming more or less self governing cities, and of new settlements being made under the auspices of the feudal lord.

Citizenship (free association) replaced the ancient ties of blood and soil, of family and feudal allegiance.

The city: Political interest centers on the struggle between the urban bourgeoisie and its overlords, the counts, the bishops, the kings.

In the modest beginnings of the new towns of the Middle Ages, military considerations were always dominant.

A strong ruler conquered a distinct adjacent to his old dominions, or wished to defend his frontier against a neighboring enemy.

He built rude fortresses.

revival of industry and trade 11 th 13 th centuries
Revival of industry and trade (11th – 13th centuries)


Immense extension of arable land throughout Europe; and

Application to the land of more adequate methods of husbandry .


When a feudal lord desired money to equip an army, join the Crusades, the only source he had was his land.

Sources of urban income:

    • tolls at the bridges and the local markets;
    • customs imposts
    • fines from the court
  • While the battlefield and tournament and the chase (War & Struggle) were the focal points of feudal life, the town offered economic and cultural resources.
importance of the church
Importance of the Church

After the fall of Roman Empire, the one powerful and universal association was the CHURCH. It was very important to be part of the communion. And it was the greatest punishment to be cut off. The Church Universal gave all communities, big and small, a common purpose

The fundamental political division of society, underlying all ties and allegiances, were the PARISH and the DIOCESE (PISKOPOSLUK BOLGESI)

This is not marked on the map, but each having, as its center, a common habitation for worship, and an appointed spiritual authority representing the Pope.

importance of the church1
Importance of the Church

The resident officers of the church, apart from those in monasteries formed a considerable proportion of the community.

A good share of the economic activities of the community was devoted to support of the clergy.

A large portion of its capital, diverted from other enterprises by the Church went into the construction and maintenance of the ecclesiastical buildings – cathedrals, churches, monasteries, hospitals, schools etc.

The main business was not trade, however, some merchants as individuals had made a fortune.

importance of the church2
Importance of the Church

The Church was a many sided institution.

The Church building performed many functions that were later separated and assigned to specialized secular institutions.

The city parish, the church was a neighborhood center, a focus of the daily community life.

No neighborhood was so poor that it lacked such a church.

At the center ---- The Cathedral for all.

importance of the church3
Importance of the Church

Despite its manifold origins and its ambivalent results, the medieval city in Europe may be described as a collective structure whose main purpose was the living of a Christian life.

Hospital and isolation ward were direct contributions of the monasteries.

The almshouses (darulaceze): a medieval municipal institution.

At no point were these urban institutions separated from the Church.

At no point was the Church itself separated from the community.

social structure

While the Universal Church was concerned with the individual soul, the medieval community was based on CLASSES and RANKS, within a limited and local order, feudal or municipal.

The unattached individual during the Middle Ages was one condemned either to excommunication or to exile: close to death.

To exist, one had to belong to an association – a household, manor, monastery or guild.

There was no security except through group protection and no freedom that did not recognize the constant obligations of a corporate life.

One lived and died in the identifiable style of one’s class and one’s corporation.

social structure1

Outside the church, the most widespread representative of the corporate life was the guild:


Common work and a common faith were united in the medieval town.

social structure the guild

The guild has a sort of linkage to the religion.

The members of the guilds ate and drank together on regular occasions;

They formulated ordinances for the conduct of their craft;

In prosperity periods, they built chapels, endowed chantries, and founded grammar school (at the height of their power built guild halls).

social structure the guild1

The merchant guild

a general body organizing and controlling the economic life of the town as a whole:

  • Regulating conditions of sale;
  • Protecting the consumers and the honest craftsmen from unfair competition
  • Protecting the traders of the town from the disorganization of their market by outside influences.
social structure the guild2

The craft guild:

An association of master working up their own product banded together to regulate production

  • Established standards for fine workmanship.
  • In time, each of these institutions found its expression in the city:
    • The Town Hall or The Market Hall
    • The Guild hall
  • The early guild halls were modest houses

or rented rooms.

social structure the guild3

The large function of the guild in the medieval city up to the 15th century:

A general elevation of the status of the work (particularly manual work).

medieval city
  • A city: a majority of its members were free citizens, without an under layer of slaves (a new fact in urban history).
  • In the medieval town:
    • the organization of industry was SIMPLE & DIRECT;
    • between master and journeyman (ustabaşı)in the workshop;
    • seller and buyer in the market place

But the primary fact was ASSOCIATION.

  • In fulfillment of its social purposes, the Guild became, through self help:
    • A health and old-age insurance society
    • A powerful group
    • An educational foundation

The center of the municipality’s activities was the Town Hall, which sometimes also served as Market Hall. At the beginning, the Town Hall was a free standing building in the market place, usually two stories, containing two halls.

The builders of the Middle Ages usually kept MORE PRACTIAL MATTERS firmly in hand.

One of the great markets in Bruges, the commercial center of the north before 15th century: Wasserhalle.

It spanned a canal and brought the cargoes by barge (mavna) directly into the market from beneath.


Towards the close of the Middle Ages, the leading families (from the wealthier of the wholesale merchants) hold their dances and routs in the town hall. Thus:

The town hall became a sort of collective palace of the patriciate ( a playhouse).

At the close of the Middle Ages,

Wealthy individuals began to endow schools, build asylums for the aged and orphans, taking functions performed by the guilds



Taking over for the country as a whole the political privileges and regulations of the free cities.




Bologna 1100

Paris 1150

Cambridge 1229

In the cathedral schools of the12th century the university laid down a cooperative organization of knowledge on an inter-regional basis.

Combination of sacred knowledge, scientific knowledge, offered at the universities had no exact parallel in any other culture.


With the universities, medieval planning made its most original contribution to civic design: the superblock and the urban precinct differentiated from the ancient network of streets and alleys.

As the Church ceased to be repository of new values, the university gradually took over some of this office.

medieval urban housekeeping
  • In most aspects of medieval life, the closed corporation prevailed.
  • Medieval urban family ----- a very open unit (it included): (This held for all CLASSES)
    • As part of the normal household:
    • Relatives by blood
    • A group of industrial workers
    • Domestics whose relation was that of secondary members of the family.
medieval urban housekeeping1
  • The workshop was the family; likewise the merchant’s counting house.
  • The members

- Ate together at the same table

- Worked in the same rooms

- Slept in the same or common hall

(converted at night into dormitories).

medieval urban housekeeping2

The guild itself was a sort of patriarchal family, which kept order in its own household.

Even the prostitutes formed guilds.

The intimate union of domesticity and labor, surviving in the city only in petty shops or in the household, dictated the major arrangements within the medieval dwelling of an occasional painter, architect, or physician.

medieval houses
  • Only two/three stories high at the beginning (built in continuous rows around the perimeter of their rear gardens; sometimes in large blocks they formed inner courts.
  • Freestanding houses, as they were harder to heat, were relatively rear.
  • The material for the houses came out of the local soil (varied with region), stone or brick etc.
  • Continuous row houses forming the closed perimeter of a block, with guarded access on the ground floor, served as a domestic wall.
  • Earliest houses had small window openings with shutters (for protection against weather)
  • Later permanent windows of oiled cloth, paper later glass
medieval houses2
  • In the 15th century, glass (costly) was used for public buildings.
  • In 16th century, glass became cheaper and started to be used widely.
  • Heating arrangements
    • Fireplace and chimney
    • Originally lacking proper materials (the poorer burghers’ houses with wooden chimney)

Great fires:

Ordinances enforcing the use of fire proof materials.

medieval houses3
  • French Houses:
  • A shop at ground floor, connected by an open alley to the kitchen at the rear (forming a courtyard)
  • A chimney in the kitchen and in the living room above the shop
  • An access from the living room to the dormitories above.
medieval houses5

In Italy:

  • In 13th century more modest dimensions
  • In Genoa and Florence (16th century) High ceiling (to be comfortable in summer and an innate love to the grandeur/ Roman sense of scale)
medieval houses6
  • As one went downwards in the economic scale, arrangements would be less differentiated and the space more restricted.
  • One room apartment for the whole family in multiple story dwelling (common among the poor in many countries).
  • The burgher house served as:
    • A workshop
    • A house
    • A Store
    • A counting house

Prevented any municipal zoning between these functions.


When the business has expanded this function grew into the original back gardens by sheds, storage bins and special workshops.

  • Mass production and concentration of looms in great sheds was known in Flanders in the 14th century (part of Belgium today):
    • Milling
    • Glass making
    • Iron making
    • Earliest break between domestic life and work (both in space and function)

In the castles of the 13th century the noble owners had private bedrooms.

Separation of the kitchen from the dining room is not characteristic.

Such a separation was seen in the monastery because of the scale of preparation.

This was copied in the manorial hall, the college and the fine town house.

to conclude

To summarize the medieval dwelling was characterized by a general absence of functionally differentiated space. There was not PRIVACY AND COMFORT.

In the cities this lack of internal specialization was offset by a complete development of domestic functions in public institutions.

Lack of private bake oven at private house ------- A public bake oven in the baker’s shop.

Lack of private bath at home-----municipal bath house in the neighborhood.

The domestic environment:

Under the pressure of crowding and high rents --- many diseases.