Roman City Planning

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Roman City Planning

The design and structure of a city is as important as the people who dwell within her walls. The placement of streets and the structures built there are carefully plotted for optimal use. Foot and cart traffic, fire hazard, and access to water were all key factors in city planning. Eventually the Romans had fine tuned their design principals in such an advantageous way that they molded all of their city states similarly.

Rome developed from the combination of small farming communities around a hilltop fortification. The city, which was founded before regularized city planning, consisted of a confusing maze of crooked and gnarled streets. The focal point of which was the city’s forum, the main meeting place and site of the many religious and civic buildings such as the Senate house, records office, and basilica. (Rich, 20)

Augustan Rome, with a population estimated at between 700,000 and one million, was the only megalopolis in the West. Rome’s street plan, which at its greatest extent had 85 km of road, was an irregular maze. Most streets were footpaths or could accommodate only one cart at a time. The central city had only two viea (streets on which two carts could pass each other), on opposing sides of the main forum. (Nicholas, 6) A law passed under Julius Caesar, which was still in force well after his death, stated that carriages were forbidden to use these streets by day, since it was found that there was not room in them both for wheeled vehicles and pedestrians. Public streets would be decorated with marble and stone, some houses, as they decayed, have revealed alleyways and passages that existed before reconstruction. (Bowra, 34)

Main streets were often designed carefully to accentuate the housing and monuments that would appear on any given street. Side streets would often be no more than passages, with flights of steps, and sometimes scarcely broad enough for two people to pass in comfort. Many streets were colonnaded; a Roman technique intended to bring shape to shadow and direct light through the streets. Earlier centuries used the stoa, or free-standing portico, to give effects of light and shade to their constructions. It is suggested that the colonnaded street developed out of the stoa; and partly also, perhaps, out of the thrifty use of available space, with the upper stories of houses jutting forw...

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...ordinated plan of the city. The main streets led directly from the center of town to the gates, and the pomerial road ran around the city immediately inside the walls. (owens, 150)

Rome was a living organism constantly changing and evolving as all cities do. However, the design and structure of Rome was born out of knotted roots. The placement of streets and the structures grew from dirt roads to paved passage ways meant to convey movement and beauty. Key factors in city planning revolved around the citizens and their needs. The Roman design principals forged a template by which all of their city states were similarly molded.

Works Cited

Bowra, Maurice Et. Al. Golden Ages of the Great Cities. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1951.

Morris, AE. History of Urban Form. London, England: George Godwin LTD, 1972

Nicholas, David. The Growth of Medieval City: From late Antiquity to Early Fourteenth Century. New York, NY: Longman Publishing, 1997.

Owens, E. J. The City in the Greek and Roman World. London, England: Routledge Publishing, 1991.

Rich, John & Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. City and the Country in the Ancient World. London, England: Routledge Publishing, 1991.

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