Chapter 4

Town Planning: Streets and Walls


The previous chapter studied the theory and the effects of seeking splendour, sometimes even at the expense of convenience. This chapter explains in part how the theory is put into practice, by erecting walls and street layouts and utilities which would all impress the visitor. Although many of the cities of Western Turkey would not be there had they not been colonized from Greece, and many more are of course local foundations, the Hellenistic period saw a large number of new cities, and also the hellenization of existing cities (cf. map in Hanfmann 1975, fig. 49). That is, not only did the population apparently increase (or were people simply drawn in from the countryside?), but Alexander and his successors were inordinately fond of the establishment of new cities for political and military as well as for economic reasons.

The City Plan

The regular grid plan for cities in the Greek world was perhaps an invention of the 7th century BC, as a means of laying out new colonies evenhandedly, and using simple instruments and eyesight. Not all cities of this date or later abide by such a rigid layout: if we go back to Miletus before its destruction by the Persians in 494, or indeed to Mycenae or Athens, we find an accretion of whimsically curved elements which have grown together through time, without any guiding plan to regiment them neatly together - the same kind of layout to be seen in many a mediaeval town in Western Europe. Hippodamus of Miletus probably laid some theory onto what was already a common practice, redesigning not only his own home town but Piraeus, the port of Athens.

Except in cases of earthquake, devastating sack or decline, a street-plan once formulated is rarely changed until the Roman period, although it is not unusual for it to be extended. This point may be illustrated by Priene, a city apparently of so little importance in Roman times that it preserved its Hellenistic plan and housing, which is most unusual. Pytheos' plan of 352 BC for the re-founding of Priene was extended in the mid-second century by the addition of a lower gymnasium at the foot of the city by the walls, and by the "architectural encasement" of a (pre-existing?) stadium. Again, at Sardis, following the great earthquake in 17 AD, almost all the Hellenistic city was levelled, the plan changed, and the focus of the city moved to the east. A similarly drastic replanning might already have occurred in the Hellenistic period, replacing a yet earlier plan (Hanfmann 1983, 117-18). We should not forget that many of the architectural changes to be seen in ancient cities betoken not simply a new fashion, but also the imposition of a new manner by immigrants or conquerors - the visible expression, so to speak, of the political will. This is of course the story of Roman art and architecture throughout the Empire, but it also occurred during the process of Hellenisation. At Sardis, for example, Hanfmann (1983, 136) notes domestic life persisting in Lydian ways and a program of monumental public buildings (fountains, theater, temples) being added or inserted into the agglomerate Lydian city.

Within ancient cities, the original paving will usually survive, often in very good condition, as at Priene or Hierapolis (5). Decline, of course, can obscure streets: again at Priene, the Byzantine castle was built over one street, and overlooking the market - presumably the only clear area in the whole of the town. At Miletus, the village of Eski Balat bore no relation whatever to the grid-plan by Hippodamus that underlay it. At Pergamum, Byzantine constructions seems related to earlier ones only where the lie of the land demands it. At Iasos, Limyra and (as we have seen) parts of Sardis, equally little attention was paid to the existing layout. Indeed, at Iasos the land wall is a mystery, for only half of it is in evidence, and it is difficult to see what it might have contained: is this a case of building a city to attract more inhabitants, and then not finishing it? This was certainly an all too common practice in the later Middle Ages further West.

Variations on the Hippodamian model

Not all important antique sites in Turkey adopt the Hippodamian grid-plan which, like all such prescriptive paper solutions without an eye for landscape, is essentially boring. Instead, we find Hellenistic town-planners adopting other schemes which, while following the lie of the land, usually adopt the curve rather than the straight line as being capable of containing more variety and indeed excitement for the visitor. Pergamum and Ephesus are of this type. Ephesus makes use of a winding valley for the disposition of her main monuments from a low saddle and so on down toward the harbour. And a comparison between Pergamum and Priene is instructive. Of course the former was incomparably the more important, but observe how the grid at Priene marches directly across and directly down the hill, as if laid out by an ancestor of Roman military camp design. Perhaps both the main temples and the market stoa were visible from afar - but there is no attempt to benefit from this almost precipitous site (a great exertion to climb up) to present the monuments dramatically: rather, all is regimented and predictable. At Priene, one feels the planners began with the plan, and imposed it on the site; at Pergamumn, on the other hand, it is quite obvious that they began by considering the potential of the site, and placed their monuments carefully upon it so as to extract as much spectacular effect as possible (cf. model reproduced in Hanfmann 1975, fig. 56). Or as Lyttleton (1974, 208) succinctly puts it, The terraces of Priene might be said to overcome the difficulties of the terrain, whereas those of Pergamum exploit them. Waelkens (1989, 81) make a similar point in a broader manner: in the Hellenistic period the concept of the street as an architectural entity was the result of of conscious aesthetic aims rather than of compelling functional grounds.

That such a view of Pergamene planning is far from a modern invention is demonstrated by what happened when the second-century AD builders of the Temple of Trajan set about their task. Observing the Temple of Athena at right angles to the entrance to the Altar of Zeus, they chose the theatre as a central axis, and used the Temple of Trajan (in a precinct roughly the same size, but with a much larger temple) to match the Altar to the north. Both face in toward the theatre, but not at the same angle. It would be interesting to know whether the Altar had a similar "balance" in Hellenistic times; unfortunately, the enormous substructures of the Precinct of Trajan are in the way, built over Hellenistic walls, some stretches of which were uncovered during the 1987 digging season.

Pergamum is certainly the most prestigious example of planning for display, but there are others (such as Alinda and Miletus, Aspendos and perhaps Sillyon) where account has been taken by the planners of the general effect of grouping the public buildings so that they make an impression from a distance.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Archaeology in Turkey, Building for Splendour, Roads, Water Supply, Aqueducts, Harbours, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Funerary Art & Architecture, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey