Session 5 – Urban settlement in an age of change
Moderator: Emanuele Intagliata
A: Eisa Esfanjary
Geomorphology of Persian Cities in the early Islamic period
Persian cities are the palimpsest of urban history. From generation to generation the process of civilisation has been archived in the urban landscape. This paper engages with the most enduring feature of the urban tissue, the town plan, through reading an on-going process of morphological development of ancient Persian urbanisation.
An analysis of the town plan of the historic city of Meybod reveals different morphological patterns: the twisting alleys, the orthogonal and the geometric systems, as well as modern streets. Each is linked to a period of history. The oldest pattern (pre-Islamic) was based on a particular topography with no surfaced qanat but only to an underground source. It is characterised by a superimposing layers of buildings with a twisting and organic street network.
The second pattern, however, an orthogonal network with a more linear street system. It can be seen on gentler slopes with surfaced qanat, comprising a lower density and greener landscape. Qanat system, agricultural practice and easy gradients were the underlying factors for such orthogonal pattern.
It is suggested that the overlapping zone of these two different morphological patterns representative of the two important periods of growth of the city. This is where the Friday Mosque and early Islamic hub were erected and itself suggests a zone of transition between the pre-Islamic and Islamic period. The placement of the first Friday Mosque at the fringe of the ancient core is hypothesized and supported as a feature of the early Islamic development of the region.
The third pattern, a pre-planned geometric system, was developed on the 19th century plain periphery of Meybod. Wide streets with stream and trees at the middle were a new and impressive setting in urban landscape.
Combining Meybod with other examples, these geomorphological patterns and the issue of early Islamic transition zone are identified and believed to be an extended and dynamic character of Persian urbanisation.
Response: Hugh Kennedy
B: Ine Jacobs
From Early Byzantium to the Dark Ages at Sagalassos
The recent excavations at Sagalassos, a medium-sized town in the south-west of Turkey, have uncovered a considerable amount of evidence related to the time span between 525/550 and 650. The drastic changes occurring during this period left permanent imprints in the archaeological record, providing us today with a privileged detailed insight into this last century of large-scale occupation. This paper intends to discuss the fast changing priorities of this fairly standard inland town of Asia Minor.
At the beginning of the period under review, the city first lived its final heyday; up until the third quarter of the sixth century, major interventions to the civic landscape indicate that the local community was both wealthy and energetic. The town at that time was also still strongly indebted to its Roman past. This phase is, however, followed by a rapid decline, during which primary needs suppressed all others and all recorded actions were purely pragmatic in nature. By the late sixth century, the Roman town had been reduced to a ruralized settlement with a habitation dispersed amidst the ruins of the past. Then, probably slightly after the year 610, the site was hit by a major earthquake. Although the ensuing 7th-century occupation phase was completely different in character from all previous–a renewed tendency towards nucleation led the occupants of the area to construct a fortified refuge on a previously undefended promontory outside the old town centre, thereby completely blocking the old main street–, the quality of the construction work indicates that also this medieval community was well organized.
Respondent: James Crow
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